Pentagon & Congress

Dem leadership fight frustrates veterans advocates

Democratic leaders on Wednesday will vote to sideline the only Iraq War-era veteran on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee and stave off an internal power struggle, a move that has infuriated some veterans advocates.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., announced last week his plans to seek the ranking member seat on the committee, following the retirement of current ranking member Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine. Walz is a retired command sergeant major in the Army National Guard, the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress.

But congressional seniority rules put Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., in line for that post, and Walz's move has touched off behind-the-scenes fights over who will be a more credible minority party voice on the committee in the coming session.

Brown and members of the Congressional Black Caucus have bristled over suggestions that the 10-term congresswoman could be passed over for the ranking member post. But Michaud and several veterans groups have publicly backed Walz, citing his military knowledge and role as the committee's most experienced veteran.

Late Tuesday, members of the House Democratic Steering Committee moved up a vote on the issue to Wednesday morning, congressional staffers confirmed.

Supporters insist the move is designed to end the issue before Walz picks up any more public support, or before the fight grows more public and more embarrassing for the already reeling party.

But a House leadership source disputed that claim, saying the vote was moved up just a few days because of completion of other business.

The official said Walz's supporters are trying to inflate his long-shot bid, and that the congressman passed up other opportunities to delay a steering committee decision until January.

The procedural politics have irritated veterans advocates supporting Walz, who see him as a more credible voice on Veterans Affairs Department reform than Brown.

One advocate labeled Walz as "the top veterans advocate" on the committee and Brown as "the least qualified member" to be considered for the post.

The source said a vote to marginalize Walz would be "rewarding idiocy and punishing competence and substantive engagement by more qualified members," noting Brown's frequent partisan comments at committee hearings.

The steering committee must first approve Walz as a permanent member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee before considering his ranking member bid. He's the third-longest sitting member on the panel, but receives a waiver for his spot so he can continue to serve on the Agriculture and Transportation committees.

Walz can petition for a full caucus vote on his bid, but must present signatures of support from 50 colleagues before the steering committee vote. The congressman's staffers were left scrambling Wednesday morning for options.

In an editorial for The Hill on Nov. 12, Walz cited his veteran status as invaluable experience that he brings to the committee's oversight of the Veterans Affairs Department.

"While I may not have the most seniority on the committee, I believe my military service matters," he wrote. "It is my combined experience in both the military and in Congress that I believe makes me the most qualified person to become ranking member."

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