WASHINGTON – The once-bedecked office of Phil Roe, a Republican congressman from Tennessee, was empty Thursday morning except for a couch, a few chairs and some portraits leaning against one wall.It’s the space reserved for the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs – an office and a title that he’ll be relinquishing in the new year when the House majority flips to the Democratic party.
Roe led the committee for two years, during which time he successfully garnered bipartisan support to follow through on numerous, weighty goals.
However, it appeared likely Friday that he would fall short on one: securing benefits for thousands of veterans who served on ships off the coast during the Vietnam War. Known as “Blue Water” Navy veterans, they’ve been fighting for years to prove they were exposed to Agent Orange.
The ongoing effort appeared ill-fated Friday, but not for lack of trying on Roe’s part. He shepherded legislation through the House, where it passed on a vote of 382-0. It marked the first time in a seven-year fight that the bill had made it out of one chamber.
The vote occurred in June, with Roe thinking there would be enough time for the Senate, notoriously slower, to approve it.
Six months later, with days before the end of the congressional session, the Senate made two last-ditch attempts to pass it. They failed twice.