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Questions about qualifications could derail Trump's Indian Health nominee

Andrew Siddons, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Health & Fitness

President Donald Trump's nominee to oversee health care services for 2 million Native Americans -- who already faces questions about whether he is qualified -- did not disclose donations to the Trump campaign in his official Senate questionnaire.

Robert Weaver, a health insurance salesman and consultant who was nominated in October to lead the $6.1 billion Indian Health Service, has been called "a staunch advocate of innovative programs to improve Native American health" by the administration. But some lawmakers are concerned that the administration inflated his qualifications. The questions surrounding his nomination raise the possibility that he might not have the votes to win confirmation.

Weaver's failure to disclose the contributions could contribute to lawmakers' doubts. According to the Federal Election Commission, he made seven $500 contributions to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the president's 2020 re-election campaign organization. The contributions were made monthly between March 2017, around the time that Weaver first discussed the Indian Health Service position with a member of Congress, and September 2017, just a few weeks before the Trump nominated him.

But in Weaver's questionnaire for the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, which is evaluating his nomination, he disclosed only the March 2017 contribution, said Jennifer Talhelm, a spokeswoman for Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the committee's top Democrat.

Weaver denied making the subsequent contributions, Talhelm said, even though the FEC records matched his name, addresses and the name of his company, RWI Benefits.

While Weaver told Udall that someone else may have contributed in his name without his knowledge, a Health and Human Services Department spokesperson said: "It is our understanding that this was an administrative error and Mr. Weaver is in the process of submitting an addendum to his questionnaire."

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When Weaver was nominated, the White House cited his "nearly two decades of experience in hospital, mental health administration, and entrepreneurship." Weaver spent the past 12 years in the insurance business helping Indian tribes provide health care coverage for their members. But The Wall Street Journal reported that his experience in hospitals may have been overstated.

A Health and Human Services Department spokesperson responded to Journal article by calling suggestions that Weaver is unqualified "nothing but an attempt at pure character assassination."

Weaver's resume said he worked at St. John's Hospital in Joplin, Mo., from 1997 to 2006. It said he worked in "various hospital administration positions, including managing all accounts receivable, budgets, patient access and physician recruitment."

The administration provided a letter from Dottie Bringle, a former nurse and executive at St. John's, who said she supervised Weaver and that he had great leadership, organizational and problem-solving skills.

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