Republican members of the normally cordial House Veterans’ Affairs Committee stormed out of a legislative mark-up on Tuesday, accusing majority Democrats of “Soviet-style tactics” and saying ongoing House impeachment investigations have infected veteran policy work with politics.
“I’m embarrassed to be on the committee today,” said ranking member Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. “Today, we made a partisan committee out of this work.”
The dispute came as members debated a women veterans policy bill that Republicans said they generally support. But after their efforts to amend the legislation with a pair of unrelated proposals — one on VA day care credentialing issues, one on veterans firearm possession rights — were gaveled down by committee chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., the caucus left the room mid-vote.
Lawmakers worry VA hasn't fully addressed issues that prompted a nationwide scandal five years ago.
For his part, Takano has accused Republicans on the committee with trying to politicize several non-controversial bills with their own conservative priorities. He repeatedly ignored Republican members’ attempts to make parliamentary inquiries and slow committee debate, pushing through the vote over several shouted objections.
“Instead of bringing forth meaningful, productive additions to legislation that will improve the lives of women veterans, they added toxic, partisan amendments, none of which worked to address how women veterans receive care," he said in a statement. “By attempting to hijack a bipartisan bill ... they have left veterans behind."
The tense committee hearing took place just a few yards away from the House’s secure hearing room where impeachment depositions have been heard for the last month. Last week, a crowd of Republican lawmakers rushed into that room to disrupt the hearings, calling the process unfair and baseless.
Several veterans committee members referenced those impeachment complaints after their protest Tuesday.
Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, said Takano is trying to “shut down debate just like chairman (Adam) Schiff,” the California Democrat who is leading the House Intelligence Committee’s inquiry. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., said he is dismayed to see the veterans panel acting “like other committees.”
Both the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees have long lauded themselves as a last bastion of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill, and incidents like Tuesday’s walk-out are rare. Even controversial proposals in recent years, such as the expansion of VA community programs and expanded firing authority for VA managers, have enjoyed mostly bipartisan support from committee members and Congress as a whole.
The bill at the center of the dispute has been a priority for the panel’s new women veterans task force, expanding gender-specific services at VA and requiring new protections on sexual harassment at VA facilities. Takano and democratic leadership have made those issues a key focus of veterans policy work in recent months.
Rep. Mark Takano says he wants to see more effort put into hiring VA staffers instead of focusing on sending veterans to private-sector doctors.
The measure was the last of 10 bills debated during Tuesday’s hearing and the only one where Republicans attempted to move the controversial amendments. Roe said that he would prefer to advance those proposals as stand-alone bills, but Takano has refused to bring them up for a vote.
The full House chamber is expected to vote in coming weeks on those 10 measures, all of which passed unanimously except for the women veterans measure, which passed without any objections in the Republicans’ absence.
Roe said after Tuesday’s walk-out that he would continue to try and work with the majority on advancing new legislation and “putting aside all of this nonsense” because of the importance of reforming VA and helping veterans.