Rep. Bruce Braley’s (D., Iowa) Senate campaign is claiming that the reason he missed a key hearing about the troubles at the Veterans’ Affairs (VA) department is that he attended another hearing. However, evidence shows he was not there, Republicans say.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported over the weekend that Braley missed more than three-fourths of hearings held by the full House VA Committee in 2011 and 2012. One of the hearings Braley skipped concerned the VA’s growing backlog of disability claims and long wait times for veterans at VA medical centers.
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That hearing was held at 10:19 a.m. on Sept. 20, 2012. Braley’s aides told the Des Moines Register that he missed the VA hearing so he could attend another House Oversight Committee hearing at 9:36 a.m. on the Fast and Furious gun trafficking scandal.
While a transcript of the Oversight hearing marks Braley as present, he does not make any statements or ask any questions at the meeting that lasted until 12:45 p.m. Braley is nowhere to be found in a video of the hearing.
"Video caught no sight of Braley," the Register reported on Wednesday. "His seat isn't always visible, but the multiple times it's within camera view during the window the Veterans Affairs committee was in session (10:19 a.m. to 11:54 a.m.), Braley wasn't seated, a Register review of C-SPAN 3 and committee footage found."
Republicans have charged Braley with neglecting early warnings about problems that reportedly plague VA centers across the country. Reports of VA staffers who falsely altered patient records to mask long wait times for veterans led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki earlier this year.
"Bruce Braley turned his back on our veterans, because when he had the chance to learn about the nationwide problems within the VA, he skipped the hearing," said Iowa Republican Party spokesman Jahan Wilcox in a recent statement. "If Braley did his job and didn’t skip 78 percent of his Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearings, he would’ve seen that our VA is crumbling and failing to provide our veterans with proper care."
Braley spokesman Jeff Giertz said in an email to the Free Beacon that the transcript of the Oversight hearing proves that the congressman attended.
"The official record of the hearing (the transcript that you mention) shows that Rep. Braley was present for the Oversight Hearing," he said.
Giertz did not respond to an additional request for comment when asked why Braley did not make any remarks at the hearing and was not visible on the video recording.
Giertz told the Register that Braley missed several of the VA hearings because "there were conflicting hearings, classified briefings, or other responsibilities that drew Bruce away."
Braley did attend a 2:29 p.m. hearing on Sept. 20 where members of the House VA Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity discussed programs for helping veterans transition into civilian employment.
However, Braley also attended three fundraisers that day, according to Sunlight Foundation records. One of the events, a noon fundraiser at the D.C. office of the law firm DLA Piper, with contributions up to $1,000 per person, began just after the VA hearing on disability claims ended.
Braley’s campaign aides confirmed to the Register that he attended all three fundraisers but said they did not conflict with the VA hearings.
Republicans also pointed out that Braley skipped an October 2011 VA hearing that described reports about the Miami VA Medical Center as a "window to a national problem." Hundreds of veterans were reportedly put at risk of exposure to disease after facility employees failed to properly sterilize reusable medical equipment.
Braley is in a dead heat with Republican Joni Ernst in the Iowa Senate race, according to an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics. The race could be crucial to Republicans’ efforts to retake the Senate majority this fall.
Ernst, a state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, is currently on her annual active duty with the guard at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.