Manchin snarls VA nominee over abortion

Democrats hold a one-seat majority on the committee and cannot advance her nomination without Manchin’s vote as long as Republicans remain united.

A Manchin spokesperson declined multiple requests to say whether he opposes her nomination, but said he opposes the policy.

“Senator Manchin [has] made clear that the VA’s current abortion policy is a blatant violation of federal law and he continues to urge the Administration to restore the commonsense protections we’ve had in place for decades to ensure federal dollars cannot be used to fund abortions,” the spokesperson said.

The lack of a confirmed general counsel could hamper the VA’s oversight and impact its ability to execute its plans and meet statutory obligations.

Chaturvedi received a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing last July, but the panel hasn’t voted on her nomination. Ranking member Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and other committee Republicans pushed her on what she’d do over the abortion policy in that hearing.

She said she hadn’t had a chance to “fully study” the law, but she would work with experts in the legal department and study the issue “very closely” if confirmed. She pledged to follow the law and said the health and well-being of the 300,000 childbearing-age veteran women is at the VA’s “core.”

Moran after the hearing pressed her to answer in writing about the abortion policy, according to two other people familiar with the matter, but her answers weren’t sufficient for committee Republicans.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) asked her about the policy during the committee hearing and quipped that her answer was “a very good confirmation hearing answer.”

If confirmed, her portfolio would include implementing the PACT Act, legislation signed last year that expanded access to benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and toxins, as well as the agency’s troubled electronic health records modernization.

The VAs’ policy has also drawn the ire of anti-abortion groups. Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America called it “egregious,” referenced the 1992 law, and said it allows “abortion on demand.” The group backed a congressional effort to block the rule led by Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and other Republicans. That effort failed in April in a 48-51 vote, with Manchin the only Democrat joining Republicans.

“This rule exceeds the VA’s statutory authority and is another example of the Biden Administration’s growing pattern of prioritizing a political agenda over Constitutional processes,” Manchin said in a statement after that vote.

Amid the impasse, VA Secretary Denis McDonough has been checking with members of the committee to see whether they support Chaturvedi’s nomination, according to two people familiar with the matter. In a recent press conference, McDonough said he was concerned about her nomination not moving and said he’s “eager” for the Senate to confirm her.

“We have 680 attorneys that work at VA. We are constantly working with Congress, with the courts, constantly making sure that we’re carrying out our business consistent with the statutory obligations of the agency. It is meaningful to have a confirmed general counsel in that slot,” McDonough said.

Richard Hipolit, a career civil servant, has served in an acting role as general counsel.

Chaturvedi is a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s criminal division, and worked as counsel to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on the Judiciary Committee.

Mark Filip, former deputy attorney general in the Bush administration, worked with Chaturvedi in litigation surrounding the 2010 BP oil spill and said she’s a “straight shooter.”

“I have no idea what her views are on abortion, but she’s not a zealot,” Filip said. “There were a lot of issues in BP where people could have personal views about things one way or another, and she handled them as a lawyer would.”

The stalemate comes amid Tuberville’s hold on hundreds of military nominations and promotions over the Pentagon’s abortion policy facilitating the procedure for service members stationed in states that ban or restrict it.

Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) hold on the nomination of Tanya Bradsher to be the No. 2 official at VA also delayed her confirmation, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer used floor time to confirm her earlier this month. Schumer has done so with some of the top military jobs but the vast majority remain unconfirmed.

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