The highest-ranking enlisted soldier in Congress will serve as the Democrats' top voice on veterans issues in the House this session.
Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz, a retired command sergeant major from the Army National Guard, was named ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee late Monday after Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., dropped his bid for the post.
“We have work to do to ensure that every veteran has access to the benefits and care they have earned,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to bringing a soldier’s perspective to the 115th Congress and working with veterans, the VA and my colleagues to uphold our nation’s promises to those who have served and sacrificed. Let’s get to work.”
Walz has served on the committee since 2007 and been a prominent voice for the party on veterans issues for his entire tenure in Congress.
He has lobbied for the leadership role for years, arguing his perspective as a veteran gives him extra insight into reform efforts for the Department of Veterans Affairs. But party seniority and committee rules foiled his bid to get the role in 2014.
Takano, who served as acting ranking member for the last half of 2016, said in a statement he was dropping his bid for the permanent leadership post because of his confidence in Walz.
“The men and women who make incredible sacrifices to protect this nation do so with the promise that they will be cared for and supported when they come home,” he said. “As a veteran and a passionate advocate for those who have served, I know that Congressman Walz will do everything in his power to make good on that promise.”
Walz had the backing of numerous veterans groups, who have cited their close working relationship with him and his enlisted background as key advantages for his work.
He also has close ties to committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who took over that role earlier this year. Both Walz and Roe are Army veterans and co-chair the House’s Invisible Wounds Caucus.
In a statement, Roe said he was “thrilled” with Walz's appointment.
“Rep. Walz has been a tireless advocate for veterans, and I know he will continue that fight as ranking member,” he said. “I look forward to working alongside Rep. Walz as we strive on both sides of the aisle to improve the lives of our nation’s heroes.”
Three of the top four congressional leadership posts on veterans issues have changed in the last month. On the Senate side, Montana Democrat Sen. Jon Tester took over as ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Only that committee’s chairman, Georgia Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson, remains from the so-called Big Four from last session.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.