Bernie Sanders’s tenure as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee was characterized by glaring neglect of his oversight responsibilities, allowing the 2014 VA scandal to unfold under his watch, veterans’ rights advocates argue.
Sanders has touted his work on veterans’ issues, most recently citing his involvement in “the most comprehensive VA health care bill in this country,” in a debate Thursday.
Left unsaid however, is that he was the chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, responsible for overseeing the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the scandal erupted.
Dozens of veterans died while waiting for medical care at Phoenix Veterans Health Administration facilities, a scandal CNN broke in the spring of 2014. The imbroglio spread with reports of secret waiting lists at other VA hospitals, possibly leading to dozens more preventable deaths.
He held one-sixth of the hearings on oversight that his House of Representatives counterpart held. Republicans griped that they had made multiple requests for more oversight hearings, but received no response. A news host even challenged Sanders as the scandal erupted, saying he sounded more like a lawyer for the VA than the man responsible for overseeing it.
“We feel that he did not live up to his responsibilities as SVAC chairman to provide oversight into this. He keeps hiding behind the mantle [of the title]. And yes, he did pass the $15 billion piece of legislation, but that’s… akin to closing the barn door after the chickens have escaped,” said Matthew Miller, the chief policy officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
In recent years, Sanders has been billed as one of the hosts for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s retreats for the “Majority Trust” — an elite group of top donors who give more than $30,000 per year — at Martha’s Vineyard in the summer and Palm Beach, Florida, in the winter. CNN has obtained invitations that listed Sanders as a host for at least one Majority Trust event in each year since 2011.
The retreats are typically attended by 100 or more donors who have either contributed the annual legal maximum of $33,400 to the DSCC, raised more than $100,000 for the party or both.
Sanders has based his presidential campaign on a fire-and-brimstone critique of a broken campaign finance system — and of Hillary Clinton for her reliance on big-dollar Wall Street donors. But Sanders is part of that system, and has helped Democrats court many of the same donors.
A Democratic lobbyist and donor who has attended the retreats told CNN that about 25% of the attendees there represent the financial sector — and that Sanders and his wife, Jane, are always present.
“At each of the events all the senators speak. And I don’t recall him ever giving a speech attacking us,” the donor said. “While progressive, his remarks were always in the mainstream of what you hear from senators.”
And Sanders has personally benefited:
He got a hand from the party in 1996, when Rob Engel, then the political director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, pushed a Democratic contender out of the race for the House seat Sanders held as an independent.
In 2006, when Sanders ran for the Senate, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pumped $37,300 into his race and included him in fundraising efforts for the party’s Senate candidates.
The party also spent $60,000 on ads for Sanders, and contributed $100,000 to the Vermont Democratic Party — which was behind Sanders even as he ran as an independent.
Among the DSCC’s top contributors that year: Goldman Sachs at $685,000, Citigroup at $326,000, Morgan Stanley at $260,000 and JPMorgan Chase & Co. at $207,000.
During that 2006 campaign, Sanders attended a fundraiser at the Cambridge, Massachusetts home of Abby Rockefeller — a member of the same family whose wealth he had one proposed confiscating.
Hmmm . . . I wonder where that info came from? If it was from the Clinton campaign, I say good work!
And then there’s this from Matthew Yglesias:
…the reality is that no matter how annoying Clinton, her team, and the dozens of senior party figures backing her may find it, Sanders’s attacks are in Clinton’s long-term best interest. That’s because his framing of Clinton as a temperamentally cautious, ideologically moderate politician who tries to straddle the divide between progressive activists and status quo business groups is, for better or worse, exactly how she is going to want to portray herself for the coming general election.
After all, though this is obviously not what most of the Democratic Party base wants to hear, there’s simply no evidence that the mass public in the United States is eager to mobilize on behalf of Sanders’s vision of a drastic policy lurch to the left.
And this: another poll showing the race getting closer in New Hampshire. Remember, Hillary scored a surprise win in New Hampshire in 2008 when Obama was coming off a big win in Iowa.
What are you hearing? What stories are you following today? Now I have to go out and shovel some snow and I’ll be back soon.