Blumenthal no longer top Dem on VA panel

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal addressing the provisions of the new VA bill last April.

Sen. Blumenthall video via YouTube

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal addressing the provisions of the new VA bill last April.

Washington –  Sen. Richard Blumenthal has been toppled from his job as the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

As Senate Democrats picked their new leaders Wednesday, Blumenthal’s post in the next Congress was given to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is expected to have a tough race for re-election in two years. Tester also has more seniority than Blumenthal, having served in the Senate since 2007. Blumenthal was sworn in in 2011.

“Seniority is the coin of the realm in the Senate,” Blumenthal said. “The position or the title is less important than the work. I will work with even greater determination to improve services for our veterans and keep faith with our nation’s heroes.”

Two years ago, Tester was given the choice of being the top Democrat on either the Indian Affairs or Veterans Affairs committee. He then chose Indian Affairs —allowing Blumenthal to become the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee.

But with President-elect Donald Trump vowing to make veterans’ issues a priority, Tester has now changed his mind.

Blumenthal will remain a member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. But as the ranking Democrat he was able to craft a wide-ranging bill aimed at reforming the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Administration with the panel’s chairman, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

Blumenthal said he hopes the lame duck session of Congress, expected to end in early or mid-December, will approve the legislation.

Isakson said he’s hopeful, too, but also said that whatever Congress approves will have substantial changes to the original bill he crafted with Blumenthal.

“A substantial part [of the bill] may move,” Isakson said.

Conservative veterans groups want the legislation changed so it’s easier for the VA to fire employees, and Trump wants all veterans to have the choice of visiting local doctors instead of those at VA facilities.

Blumenthal will remain a member of the Senate Judiciary, Commerce and Armed Forces committees.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is expected to keep his seats on the Senate Foreign Relations; Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; and Appropriations committees.

There were no surprises in Senate leadership elections on Wednesday.

Republicans re-elected Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,  as Senate majority leader while Democrats tapped Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.  as their leader as both parties prepare for critical battles with the Trump administration.

In a nod to the progressives of his party, Schumer formally added Vermont independent Bernie Sanders to a  junior role in a newly expanded Senate Democratic leadership team

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