Rep. Bruce Braley (D., Iowa) skipped a key Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee hearing in 2012 on the same day he had a fundraiser, again raising questions about his commitment to veterans’ issues, Republicans say.
The GOP had already pounced on Braley for missing a hearing held by the full House VA Committee on Sept. 20, 2012, where lawmakers discussed long wait times for veterans’ mental health care, the backlog of disability claims, and the stewardship of VA funding. He also attended three fundraisers that day.
Government records show that Braley, this year’s Democratic Senate candidate in Iowa, also missed a VA hearing on Feb. 15, 2012. Then VA Secretary Eric Shinseki discussed the department’s 2013 budget request at the meeting.
Braley was scheduled to attend a breakfast fundraiser that morning with several union PACs, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The fundraiser was scheduled to end at 9:30 a.m., while the hearing began at 10:31.
Republicans again pointed to Braley’s absence at the hearing as evidence that he failed to take VA issues seriously before details emerged of a national scandal at medical centers. Shinseki resigned in May following multiple reports of VA employees who falsified patient records to conceal long wait times at facilities.
"Bruce Braley’s priorities are backwards, as this is the second time he found time for a fundraiser yet didn’t attend a Veterans’ Affairs hearing on the same day," said Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Jeff Kaufmann in a statement. "Braley’s pattern of finding time for his fundraisers, but not important VA hearings speaks volumes about his character. Our veterans deserve better than Bruce Braley."
In total, Braley skipped more than 75 percent of the full VA Committee hearings in 2011 and 2012. A GOP group began airing an ad on Friday with a Vietnam veteran who said he was "insulted" that Braley missed the meetings.
His campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Braley campaign spokesman Jeff Giertz previously told the Des Moines Register that the four-term congressman would skip hearings if "there were conflicting hearings, classified briefings, or other responsibilities that drew Bruce away." Giertz noted that Braley attended most of the hearings for the subcommittee on economic opportunity for veterans, where he served as the ranking Democrat.
However, video evidence appeared to contradict one of the Braley campaign’s claims about why he missed the September 2012 hearing. Aides told the Register that he skipped the VA hearing that morning to attend another one held by the House Oversight Committee.
Braley was marked present at the Oversight meeting but did not make any statements or ask any questions, according to a transcript of the hearing. He also did not appear on a video of the proceedings.
Union individuals and PACs contributed more than $258,000 to Braley’s campaign committee in 2012, the year of the fundraiser, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They have donated more than $273,000 to him in the current cycle.
Braley remains in a virtual tie with his Republican opponent Joni Ernst, according to the Real Clear Politics poll average. A Loras College Poll released on Monday gave Braley a 4.8 percent edge in the race, his biggest lead yet in recent surveys.
Ernst is a state senator, Iraq War veteran, and current lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard.