WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats made history today by selecting Washington's Patty Murray to head the Veterans' Affairs Committee, marking the first time a woman will hold the influential post.
Murray, a fourth-term senator first elected in 1992, will replace Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii as the new committee chair. Akaka, an 86-year-old veteran of World War II, has headed the committee for the last four years.
“Following in his footsteps is an amazing task, but I am ready to take this on, and I’m very excited,” Murray said in an interview.
Murray joined the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in 1995, becoming the first woman named to the panel.
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“I look at this as a passion for veterans, men and women alike,” she said of her new assignment.
Murray, 60, knows a thing or two about veterans from personal experience.
She’s the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, who earned the Purple Heart as one of the first GIs to land on Okinawa. And in the summer of 1972, as a 22-year-old student at Washington State University, she interned at the Seattle veterans hospital, where she was assigned to do physical rehabilitation in the psychiatric ward.
The appointment increases Murray’s already high profile on Capitol Hill. She’s the Senate majority’s conference secretary, making her the fourth highest-ranking Democrat, and she heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is working to recruit and fund candidates for the 2012 election.
Roll Call, a Washington-based publication, this week called Murray one of five senators to watch closely in the new Congress, saying she will “influence the debate and drive caucus decisions” over the next two years.
“Her dual roles put her at the nexus of every legislative and political decision the Senate majority will make in the 112th Congress,” Roll Call reported.