Messy Fight for Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Slot (Updated)
Updated 9:28 a.m. | Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota thought there would be a vote after Thanksgiving on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member race. As it turns out, his face-off against Rep. Corrine Brown of Florida will happen on Wednesday.
It gives Walz less time than he and his allies said they anticipated to build support around his uphill challenge of Brown, who benefits from seniority and the backing of the Congressional Black Caucus, of which she is a member.
Before the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee can meet to vote on a recommendation to the full House Democratic Caucus, Walz will have to clear an additional hurdle: A vote on whether he is even eligible to hold the post.
Walz is the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress and has had a seat at the Veterans’ Affairs Committee table since 2007. He is, however, on the committee via waiver, and his opponents say it doesn’t qualify him to run against Brown, who after nearly two decades on the committee is next in line to succeed the current retiring ranking member, Michael H. Michaud of Maine.
The Steering and Policy Committee is the governing body of members of leadership, and includes regional representatives, key committee ranking members and Pelosi appointees. It’s not clear that Walz has enough allies there to clear the 14-vote threshold necessary to force a full caucus vote — or, for that matter, if Walz has the 50 signatures necessary to advance to that full vote in the event 14 votes inside Steering and Policy are not obtained.
Late Tuesday night, Walz’s team was preparing to go into battle.
A source informed CQ Roll Call there was a sense that this was House Democratic leaders’ attempt to stymie Walz from mounting a serious challenge against Brown. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., is already fending off criticism for endorsing the less-senior member in the race to be ranking member on Energy and Commerce, and a situation where Walz would be able to overcome Brown would be more trouble for her than it’s worth (Pelosi has said she is supporting Brown for the bid).
“The vote was moved up two weeks in the middle of the night in an attempt to prevent Tim Walz, the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, from getting a vote by the full caucus,” the source told CQ Roll Call in an email at 11:55 p.m. Tuesday. “Leadership is trying to prevent the democratic process from playing out.”
Democratic leadership aides said there were never plans to hold contested ranking member elections after Thanksgiving — new members are in town for orientation and leave at the week’s end, and they won’t be able to come back to Capitol Hill before January to cast votes on the matter.
Walz served in the Army National Guard and many veterans want one of their own representing their interests on the committee. But outside groups, which don’t get a vote on the matter, are going to battle for Walz at a time when members of the House Democratic Caucus are having a larger fight about how much pull the seniority system should have in doling out plum committee leadership assignments.
The CBC is making it clear that if Brown gets passed up for the job, it won’t sit well.
“The Congressional Black Caucus feels very strongly that Congresswoman Corrine Brown is entitled to be the ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee,” Rep. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, who is poised to be the CBC chairman in the 114th Congress, told CQ Roll Call on Nov. 13. “If by chance Mr. Walz were to gather enough votes to defeat Ms. Brown, it is my personal opinion that it will cause divisions within the Democratic caucus that will take years to overcome.”