Democrats scrambled Wednesday to tamp down anger among veterans groups who objected to the party’s choice of Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida as ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Compounding the anger was the Democratic leadership’s treatment of the sole veteran among the panel’s Democrats, who was briefly ousted from the committee on a technicality and thus made ineligible to seek to become ranking member.
As a result, Rep. Brown was the only Democrat seeking to serve as party leader on the committee that has been a watchdog for the Veterans Affairs Department’s wait-time scandal and the implementation of the new VA reform law.
Ms. Brown was the most senior Democrat on the committee, but veterans service organizations had wanted Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, to get the top job. They complained that Ms. Brown rarely attended hearings and wasn’t willing to question the status quo at the scandal-plagued VA.
Dan Caldwell, CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, said selecting Ms. Brown makes him question how dedicated Democrats are to fixing the VA, which came under scrutiny earlier this year when veterans were kept on secret wait-care lists — with some reportedly dying, though no specific deaths have been definitively blamed on the wait times.
“The fact that they’re appointing Corrine Brown shows the House Democratic leadership is not serious about reforming and fixing the VA,” he said. “If they were, they would’ve put stronger members in leadership positions on that committee, but they didn’t.”
House Democratic caucus rules bar any member from holding positions on three committees, and Mr. Walz served on two besides VA — Agriculture and Transportation.
He had been a non-permanent member of the veterans panel in recent sessions, though with full voting and other participation rights, thanks to a waiver granted under the rules.
However, that waiver expires at the end of this year, which meant he wasn’t technically on the committee at the time Democrats voted for their next ranking member, granting Ms. Brown the post by default.
Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont had submitted a request to put Mr. Walz on the committee in time to be eligible. But, according to a source familiar with discussions, he withdrew the request after it appeared Democratic leaders wouldn’t approve it.
Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, said Mr. Walz has a guaranteed place on the committee next Congress and will serve in a leadership role interacting with many of the veterans-service organizations that supported him.
“Leader Pelosi is very grateful to Congressman Walz for his leadership as highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress,” Mr. Hammill said in a statement. “Congressman Walz has accepted the leader’s offer to serve on the veterans’ committee in the 114th Congress and to chair the quarterly [veterans service organization] roundtables that the leader has organized and held regularly since 2006.”
Mr. Walz’s bid for the ranking member’s post had the backing of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, and the current ranking member, Rep. Michael Michaud, Maine Democrat.
Concerned Veterans for America did not endorse Mr. Walz, but encouraged Democrats to pick anyone but Ms. Brown.
The Congressional Black Caucus backed Ms. Brown’s bid, saying that she deserved to be ranking member as the most senior Democratic member of the committee. Mrs. Pelosi also has said she would be supporting Ms. Brown.