Walz Abandons Bid for Top Veterans' Affairs Panel Slot

Flickr user Terry Ross

Rep. Tim Walz has backed off his effort to become the top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, amid questions raised over his status as a member of the panel.

Walz had let it be known earlier this month he planned to challenge Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida for the ranking-member seat on the panel, to succeed Rep. Michael Michaud of Maine, who is leaving Congress.

Walz is a four-term congressman from Minnesota, and a major in the Army National Guard. His congressional website describes him as "the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress."

And Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont did present Walz's candidacy for ranking member to the House Democratic Steering Committee, controlled by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

But according to members of the committee, Welch later withdrew Walz's name, following discussions about the congressman's exact status on the committee, including his future status.

Brown is next-in-line in seniority to succeed Michaud, while Walz is the third-longest serving committee member. And among Brown's allies are fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who have been battling with Pelosi against what they see as an erosion of seniority as a benchmark for selecting committee leaders in recent years.

But some outside groups, such as Concerned Veterans for America, asked Pelosi to reconsider her support for Brown for the post, and Walz had emerged among the potential alternatives.

In a letter to Pelosi released Wednesday, the CVA accused Brown of public statements that have "consistently minimized and dismissed the deep cultural and structural problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs."

What turned out to be the hurdle for Walz, according to those with knowledge of the Steering Committee discussion, was that he actually has relied on a special waiver to stay on the Veterans' panel while he serves on two other committees—Agriculture and Transportation.

There is a two-committee limit, and technically, the waiver lowers Walz's ranking on the third committee. In addition, such waivers must be renewed each session—and committee-seat ratios have not yet been worked out with Republicans for the 114th session. (The GOP is likely to push for more panel seats, at the expense of Democrats, because of the midterm election results.)

So, in a sense, Walz faced the prospect of not even being on the committee that he wanted to chair next session.

Later Wednesday, Walz said the matter had been resolved, though he did not give details.

"We are obviously disappointed," he said in a statement, "but this has always been about doing all I can to advocate for and serve veterans and their families. I will continue to do that. I appreciate the support I received from Democratic Members of Congress and veterans and their advocates.... I congratulate Rep. Brown on becoming Ranking Member of the VA Committee and wish her the best."

A comment from a Pelosi spokesman provided a glimpse of how the matter was worked out.

"Leader Pelosi is very grateful to Congressman Walz for his leadership as highest-ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress," said the spokesman, Drew Hammill.

"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," Hammill said.

(Image via Flickr user Terry Ross)

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