Veterans group backs underdog Dem in committee race

An influential veterans group is backing the underdog Democrat in the race for the ranking member slot on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the next Congress.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) on Friday endorsed Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) over the more senior Rep. Corrine BrownCorrine BrownFormer Florida rep sentenced to five years in prison for fraud, tax evasion Genuine veteran charities face a challenge beating the fakes Former Florida rep found guilty of tax evasion, fraud MORE (D-Fla.) in the race for top Democrat on the committee.

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Walz, “having served for 24 years in the Army National Guard, is the highest ranking enlisted service member to ever serve in Congress, and his military experience has and will continue to significantly enhance the caucus’s contributions to this committee,” IAVA founder Paul Rieckhoff said in a letter to the House Democratic Caucus.

It is “critical that the caucus support and select the most qualified member of the committee to serve as its ranking member,” he said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has already backed Brown in the race, and Democrats tend to protect seniority when it comes to committee assignments.

The winner will take over the No. 2 spot from Rep. Michael Michaud (D), who must vacate his seat next year after retiring to run a losing bid for governor of Maine.

The committee slot comes with a high profile, as the Veterans Affairs Department is under pressure to fix problems that were revealed in the scandal over patient wait times.

Walz, who joined the service when he was 17 and retired as command sergeant major, last week sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to his fellow Democrats announcing his long-shot bid.

He wrote an op-ed this week arguing his “combined experience in both the military and in Congress" makes him the most qualified person to be the panel's next ranking member.

Rieckhoff said Walz has proven his credentials “through his focused ideas, thoughtful questions, and proactive engagement while serving on the committee.”

“His outreach to and collaboration with the veteran service and advocacy community is among the most dynamic of any member of Congress and has illustrated his dedication to issues that affect our members and the wider military and veteran community,” he added.

Furthermore, the Minnesota lawmaker "listens attentively to witnesses, is critical and inquisitive when necessary, and is an overall productive contributor to the veterans affairs discourse," Rieckhoff said.