After Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) picked a bizarre, unprovoked fight against veterans’ groups on Memorial Day weekend, the pushback from veterans was quite fierce. I expected the Republican senator – who never served a day in the military – to (a) quietly walk back his comments; (b) blame his staff; or (c) keep his head down and wait for his fiasco to blow over.
Inexplicably, Burr chose a different course: the ranking member on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee decided yesterday to launch Round Two of the fight he picked for no reason.
Sen. Richard Burr said on Wednesday that he isn’t backing down from his recent attack on veterans’ groups and even stepped up his assault, charging the organizations are more upset by his comments than they are by the scandal at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.“I absolutely stand by my statement,” the North Carolina Republican said in an email to POLITICO, referring to his controversial open letter blasting some of the organizations for not pressing for the ouster of Secretary Eric Shinseki in the wake of the VA scandal.“In fact, the reaction from some of the Veterans Service Organizations – VFW, DAV, and PVA – seems to prove my point: their national leadership are far more outraged by my words than they have been about the VA scandal or Secretary [Eric] Shinseki’s mismanagement of the agency,” he added, referring to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
Burr added, “How many Inspector General, Special Counsel, GAO, and Medical Inspector reports does it take to spur outrage and prompt action?”
Apparently, in the senator’s mind, if you don’t call for Gen. Shinseki’s ouster, then you must not be genuinely “outraged” by the VA scandal.
Laura Clawson added, “Burr’s position, in other words, is ‘they got angry when I attacked them for disagreeing with me, therefore I must be right.’”
To be sure, I’m not suggesting that veterans must, in all instances, be exempt from all criticism in policy debates. That’s absurd. Veterans have earned our respect and our gratitude, but if a policymaker has a sincere, substantive disagreement with, say, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, there’s nothing wrong with that.
In my experience, vets tend to be pretty tough. They can handle an argument with an elected official.
But in this case, the problem is not that Burr disagrees with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. Rather, the issue here is that he picked a ridiculous fight and is questioning veterans’ motives without cause.
As Rachel reported on the show the other day, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a high-profile hearing last week on the VA scandal, and the hearing included testimony from representatives of veterans’ groups.
When organizations’ leaders addressed the panel, Burr left the room. We don’t know why. We don’t know where he went. He briefly showed up towards the end, asked no questions, and told the groups’ representatives to wrap up the Q&A so the committee could move on.
Burr then decided – again, on Memorial Day weekend – to publish an open letter. He could have reached out to the groups directly, sharing his concerns in private, but instead, the Republican senator released a letter to the world, blasting the veterans’ organizations, in part because of their committee testimony.
That would be testimony that Burr didn’t actually hear because he couldn’t be bothered to stay for his own committee’s hearing.
But adding insult to injury is the fact that the North Carolinian feels comfortable calling the veterans’ motives into question. Disagreeing with groups is one thing; challenging their integrity is something altogether different.
And, yes, this is the same conservative Republican who recently joined a GOP filibuster on a bill to expand VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training.
If Richard Burr is wondering what it takes “to spur outrage,” he should wonder no more.