Senator holds up confirmation process for key VA positions
WASHINGTON — Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., insisted on the Senate floor Tuesday that she would delay the confirmation process for key Department of Veterans Affairs positions until the VA secretary responds to her requests for information about a piece of legislation.
Blackburn, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, voted last month to advance four VA nominees to the Senate floor. However, she placed a hold on the confirmation process, keeping the nominees from being confirmed and sworn into their jobs.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the chairman of the committee, went to the Senate floor Tuesday and asked senators to confirm the nominees by unanimous consent. Blackburn objected. She said she would continue to object until VA Secretary Denis McDonough responded to her request for feedback about the Cost of War Act, which would extend disability benefits to veterans of all eras who suffer the effects of toxic exposure.
Blackburn accused the VA of being silent on the bill, which she said was “shaping up to be the most consequential legislative effort on the veterans’ space in an entire generation.” She expressed skepticism that if the bill were passed by Congress, the VA could handle the influx of claims that would result from extending benefits and health care to more veterans.
“I will continue to keep my hold on these pending VA nominees until I receive the official views on the Cost of War Act,” Blackburn said. “What we’re doing is standing up for these veterans and saying to the VA, ‘Get your act together. Provide this information.’”
Tester argued against Blackburn’s tactic. He said he had committed to Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., the ranking Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, that he would not begin to debate the Cost of War Act until Republicans’ questions about the bill were answered.
In a heated exchange, Tester asked Blackburn to reconsider her hold on the VA nominees, but she refused.
“We can sit here and play these games of holding up nominees to fill critical agency positions and say we’re doing it on behalf of veterans, but that is bull. Total bull,” Tester said. “The bottom line is, if we want a VA that can function, then we must have it staffed up. We’ve got a job to do here, folks.”
One of the nominees Blackburn is delaying is Donald Remy, chief operating officer and chief legal officer of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Remy was nominated as the deputy secretary for the VA — the department’s No. 2 position.
The other nominations include retired Gen. Matthew Quinn to be undersecretary for memorial affairs and Maryanne Donaghy to lead the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, as well as Patricia Ross, who was nominated as the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for congressional and legislative affairs. If confirmed, Ross’ primary job duty would be responding to members of Congress and overseeing communications with lawmakers.