Rep. Tim Walz will seek the ranking member seat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, setting up a potentially ugly fight when House Democrats are still reeling from Election Day losses.
At first blush, Walz is an ideal candidate. The Minnesota Democrat is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Though he's technically the least senior member on the committee — he gets a waiver to sit at the bottom of the roster so he can continue serving on two other panels — he's actually the third longest-serving member there. He's more moderate than others in his party and veterans' services organizations think he can work well across the aisle if need be, a Democratic aide said.
A source familiar with Walz's thinking told CQ Roll Call he has informed leadership of his intention to run and, if elected by his peers, would gladly give up one of his current committee assignments — most likely Transportation and Infrastructure.
But Walz's real obstacle is that he's going up against Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., who is the next in line for the job with current ranking member Michael H. Michaud, D-Maine, retiring at the end of the year. Brown has an edge in a caucus that places a high premium on the seniority system. She is also a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a contingent that is fiercely protective of its own and clings to the seniority principle as a way to keep its members from being passed over, even if unintentionally, for leadership slots.
Some lawmakers might prefer Walz for his military credentials and his centrist leanings in a hyper-partisan environment, plus his ties to the veterans' community, being one himself.
"Our VA system is in crisis, and now, more than ever, Democrats need a strong, respected voice to address these problems head on and build the coalition required get veterans and their families the care they deserve," Walz said in his "dear colleague" letter to members on Friday.
Brown is passionate and well-informed on the issues, plus committed to the work, as her district is home to a huge military population — but she's also known for being a partisan flame-thrower whose politics, some fear, could become an obstacle to getting things done.
Members are also going to have to weigh whom they want representing House Democrats if another scandal at the VA hits in the 114th Congress. A case could be made that either candidate for the ranking member position would be uniquely qualified for that job.
"If given the opportunity to serve in this position, I will be the first African American to serve as Ranking Member of the committee, and would be the first woman to serve in this capacity since 1960," Brown said in her own letter asking for members' support. "I pledge to work in a bi-partisan manner, but will provide a strong voice, and will stand up for the core Democratic values that protect our most vulnerable citizens."
The contest, however, is likely to become a referendum on the status quo rather than a battle of ideas, much like the ongoing fight for the top Democratic seat on Energy and Commerce. Matt Fuller and Connor O'Brien contributed to this report. Roll Call Election Map — Results For Every District and Senate Race Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.