Bruce Braley and the Challenge of Balancing Priorities

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
July 22 2014 5:38 PM

Bruce Braley and the Challenge of Balancing Priorities

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Thinking about which Congressional hearing to go to

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Iowa's race for U.S. Senate is one of the year's least substantive, which is really saying something, and which suggests that Rep. Bruce Braley has yet to recover fully from calling Sen. Chuck Grassley "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school." (His point, made to a room of checkbook-toting fellow lawyers, was that Grassley would be a lousy Judiciary chairman.) The gaffe itself might have been mitigated, but Braley has made tiny errors that were swiftly turned into day-long media disasters. The Narrative about Braley, as NRSC spox Brad Dayspring puts it*, is that the guy previously seen as a clever populist candidate just can't get out of his own way.

Which leads us to one of the funnier nano-scandals of 2014. I will let the NRSC's Bill Murphy introduce the story.

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A click sends us to an article headlined "Braley attended three fundraisers on day of missed veterans affairs hearing." Notice the slight difference. The campaign committee implies that Braley went to fundraisers instead of the hearing. The story does not. As Jennifer Jacobs tells it:

At 10 a.m. on Sept. 20, 2012, the committee held a hearing on a backlog of disability claims and reports of problems with mental health care and stewardship of VA funding, congressional records show. The roll call shows Braley didn't attend. Instead, he went to an Oversight and Government Reform Committee meeting that began at 9:36 a.m., records show.
Records from the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation show that on the same day, Braley had three fundraisers on his schedule for his re-election to the U.S. House.
He attended all three, campaign aides confirmed to The Des Moines Register.
The one from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. was a $2,500 breakfast at Johnny's Half Shell, which serves seafood fresh from the Chesapeake Bay and has a view of the Capitol dome.
At noon, Braley went to the D.C. law firm of DLA Piper for a $1,000 per person fundraiser.

In other words, Braley went to a fundraiser that ended before the missed hearing, and to a fundraiser that started two hours after the hearing kicked off. There's no defending Braley on the larger point, which is that he missed most VA hearings in 2011 and 2012. But he didn't actually ditch the VA hearing for a fundraiser. He was at some other hearing, which appeared to be more important. What, on Sept. 20, 2012, could have been more important?

Oh, man.

Braley missed a Sept. 20 hearing about something that would become a scandal because he opted for a hearing about a contemporary scandal. If today's Braley had a time machine, he'd probably tell his 2012 self that the VA oversight would become a much bigger deal than Fast and Furious, and that if he planned on criticizing Chuck Grassley he should avoid putting "farmer" in the rundown of negatives. But Braley does not have a time machine (I think), and Joni Ernst remains a lucky candidate with a team that came up hard on the Romney and Rubio campaigns.**

*On Twitter, not to me personally. Though Dayspring has been proved more right than I about the damage of Braley's first gaffe. His favorable ratings have remained steady, but he lost an opportunity to define himself before the campaign plunked into a petri dish of derp.

**The thinking six months ago, among Democrats, was that Braley was a talented candidate and fundraiser who would oppose either a rich, unrelatable businessman or a extremely right-wing state legislator. He got the legislator, but her team has run on her personal story.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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