July 10 (UPI) -- The Senate Committee on Veteran's Affairs on Tuesday endorsed Robert Wilkie, President Donald Trump's nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The committee approved advancing Wilkie's nomination to the full Senate in a near-unanimous voice vote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who was not in the room at the time, requested to be recorded as a "no" vote.
A spokesman for Sanders said his vote was not a reflection on Wilkie, but represented his concern over plans by the Trump administration to privatize veterans' healthcare.
Committee chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., praised Wilkie after the vote and called for the Senate to confirm his appointment.
"Mr. Wilkie has the expertise and the positive attitude to take on challenges that lie ahead, and he will prove indispensable in helping transform the VA," Isakson said. "Today's committee vote signals the broad, bipartisan support that I hope we can look forward to in his confirmation by the full Senate."
The panel's top Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, issued a statement after the vote saying Wilkie "has experience and a commitment to veterans and their families that should serve our men and women in Montana and across the nation."
Wilkie has led the VA on an interim basis since White House physician Ronny Jackson withdrew his name from consideration for the position in March.
During his confirmation hearing in June, Isackson warned Wilkie he would face a morale crisis at the VA if confirmed as head of the department, which has been without a permanent director since David Shulkin was fired in March.
Wilkie told lawmakers at the hearing he would "shake up complacency" within the agency and that he was "opposed to the privatization of the Veterans Affairs Department and will continue to make sure that the [Veterans Health Administration] is fully funded."