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Veterans Affairs Panel Facing Democratic Leadership Change

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Corrine Brown, left, is currently the second ranking Democrat on the Veterans' Affairs panel.

Rep. Bob Filner’s retirement has set off a contentious Democratic primary back home for his Congressional seat, but colleagues under the Dome are so far staying cool about who will succeed him as the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The California Democrat could step down from his House seat next year if he wins the San Diego mayoral race, and his exit would make an opening for a handful of ambitious Members to try to move up the committee ladder.

“I don’t think anyone is thinking about this yet,” one Democratic observer said, “but with Filner leaving, there will need to be a new ranker next Congress.”

The race to replace retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) atop the Financial Services Committee will likely garner more attention because Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the next in line, is embroiled in an ethics controversy. Still, the potential opening at Veterans’ Affairs poses its own intrigue.

Behind Filner on the committee is Rep. Corrine Brown, a 10-term Democrat who hails from military-heavy Jacksonville, Fla. While she’s No. 2 on the Veterans’ Affairs panel, Brown also has a coveted subcommittee ranking membership on the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and she may not want to have to give that up to succeed Filner.

Brown “has been able to advocate for greater resources for our nation’s brave armed service members who risk their lives to defend our nation’s democracy,” spokesman David Simon said in an email. “However, she has not made any decisions yet with respect to possible committee assignments in the next Congress at this time.”

If Brown decides against going for the top Democratic spot on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Silvestre Reyes could make a move. The Texan served as chairman of the Intelligence Committee for four years after Democrats won the majority in 2006, and members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus have lobbied to get one of their own atop another panel ever since he stepped down as the top Democrat on the Intelligence panel earlier this year. Reyes is also a Vietnam veteran and said in a statement, “I am certainly committed and interested in continuing to serve our veterans in the best way that I can.”

Like Brown, though, Reyes already boasts the top Democratic spot on a plum panel — in his case, the Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces. He would have to give up that position if he wants to move up at Veterans’ Affairs. Also, like Brown, Reyes is keeping his options open for now.

“My main focus at this time is to continue to work closely with ranking member Filner and my colleagues to best serve our veterans,” Reyes said.

After Brown and Reyes, Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine) is next in line on Veterans Affairs. He’s already the top Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health, making his potential ascent as ranker to the full panel an easy transition. Michaud’s spokesman, Ed Gilman, said his boss would “be interested in the position” of ranking member.

“He’s dedicated to the committee, and has been an active member on it since he was first sworn in, making veterans’ issues a top priority throughout his time in the House,” Gilman said in a statement.

If Filner wins the June Democratic primary in San Diego, his ascent to the mayor’s office is streamlined. San Diego’s mayor will be sworn in Dec. 3, so Filner would have to leave his House seat during a potential lame-duck session. The House is scheduled to be in session for a total of four work weeks after next year’s November elections, including for two weeks in December.

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