VA nominee on treatment of women, minorities: 'I will stand on my record'

VA nominee on treatment of women, minorities: 'I will stand on my record'
© Greg Nash

President TrumpDonald TrumpMark Walker to stay in North Carolina Senate race Judge lays out schedule for Eastman to speed up records processing for Jan. 6 panel Michael Avenatti cross-examines Stormy Daniels in his own fraud trial MORE’s nominee to become Veterans Affairs secretary on Wednesday defended his record on his treatment of women and minorities following a news article about statements he made as a congressional aide.

“I welcome a scrutiny of my entire record,” Robert Wilkie told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at his confirmation hearing. “If I had been what the Washington Post implied, I don’t believe I would have been able to work for Condoleezza Rice or Bob Gates or Jim Mattis. … I will stand on my record.”

Wilkie's remarks came in response to a question from Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds  Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema Dems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules  MORE (D-Hawaii), who had inquired about a Washington Post story in which Wilkie defended past bosses' polarizing statements and his past membership in a Confederate group.

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Wilkie has decades of experience as a congressional aide and in the executive branch, though that experience includes stepping up for previous bosses at divisive moments.

Wilkie defended former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) in 1993 when Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.) — the only African-American in the Senate — rallied her colleagues to block Helms’s amendment to renew the patent on the insignia used by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which featured the Confederate flag.

At the time, Wilkie told the Post that Moseley Braun’s effort was “an attempt in the name of political correctness to erase entire blocks of our history. ... The question is whether we’re going to wipe out the history of millions of Americans who trace their heritage to the losing side.”

Wilkie, whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, also attended annual memorial ceremonies held by other descendants of Confederate veterans as recently as 2005. The events, held in Washington, coincided with the birthday of Jefferson Davis, according to the Post.

Wilkie was also a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a group that defends public displays of the Confederate symbols.

Later in his hearing, Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisSenate Republicans press federal authorities for information on Texas synagogue hostage-taker Bipartisan Senate group discusses changes to election law There is a bipartisan path forward on election and voter protections MORE (R-N.C.) — one of Wilkie's former bosses — gave the nominee further opportunity to defend himself. Wilkie said he went to three memorials, two sanctioned by the Army and Pentagon and one sanctioned by the speaker of the House.

“The broader issue of the flag, to address what The Washington Post said, I stopped doing many of those things at a time when that issue become divisive,” Wilkie said, adding that all veterans should be honored.

Wilkie also drew questions for edits he made to a draft resolution on equal pay for women while serving as an aide to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). According to the Post, Wilkie marked up a draft resolution from Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) with edits that called on Congress to require young women to finish high school as a condition of receiving welfare.

Asked by Hirono about the edits, which she called “offensive and condescending,” Willkie suggested he was not responsible for them.

“I don’t remember,” he said when asked if he made the edit. “I passed it off to staff.”

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Pressed by Hirono on whether conditional welfare for young women is a good idea, Wilkie said, “I would not make that requirement.”

“That would never enter my mind,” he added.

Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal N95 distribution plan could imperil small US mask makers Biden's year two won't be about bipartisanship  MORE (D-Ohio) questioned Wilkie on whether he would commit to serving all veterans regardless of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Wilkie responded, “Absolutely.”