With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, Baird Helgeson, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Abby Simons, Rachel E. Stassen-Berger and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Corey Mitchell and Jim Spencer.

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Rep. Tim Walz appointed to House VA Conference Committee

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 18, 2014 - 5:22 PM

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Walz was among six Democrats and eight Republicans tapped Wednesday on the House side to work out differences between passed House and Senate legislation to reform the Veterans Administration.

Walz, who served 24 years in the Army National Guard, is a member of the House Veterans Committee.

In a statement, Walz said, "My number one goal as a veteran myself and a member of this conference committee is to ensure our veterans and their families are able to get the care they need, and in a timely manner."

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the reform legislation are not great, staffers say, but both chambers are eager to get VA reform passed and sent to the president promptly.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar calls day background checks failed 'saddest day' as politician

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 18, 2014 - 5:05 PM

WASHINGTON -- In promoting legislation that would ban convicted stalkers from purchasing firearms, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Wednesday Congress needs to be "honest and pragmatic" about tighter gun laws and she still has hope for national reform.

At an event sponsored by the Center for American Progress, Klobuchar, along with other advocates for tighter gun control, was introduced by Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords, a former member of Congress, was shot in the head during a constituent meet and greet in her Arizona district in January 2011.

She and Kelly are now running Americans for Responsible Solutions, which advocates for tighter gun laws in states and at the federal level.

Klobuchar said she respected America's tradition of gun ownership and that she approaches stricter gun proposals with her Uncle Dick, who loves to hunt, in mind.

"I look at every bill here and say does this hurt my Uncle Dick?" she said.

She called the April 2013 failed Senate vote on expanded background checks one of the saddest days she's had in the U.S. Senate. She said she feels strongly about strengthening gun legislation for stalkers because of her days as a prosecutor, where a lot of heart-wrenching stories of abuse went untold.

"Every single day we have victims of domestic violence and stalking who then become victims of shootings," she said. "I've gotta continue my work in building Republican support on this bill."

National Republican committee dumps $3.2M into Minn. TV

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 17, 2014 - 12:32 PM

WASHINGTON -- The National Republican Congressional Committee will spend $3.2 million in Twin Cities television this fall on behalf of Stewart Mills and Torrey Westrom, both of whom are trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Reps. Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson.

Republican officials announced the ad reservations Tuesday. The Minnesota buys are a part of a $30 million national effort in outside independent expenditures ahead of the mid-term elections. Independent spending means the NRCC can't, by law, coordinate with Mills or Westrom's campaigns.

The move is strictly offensive; the NRCC doesn't plan on spending any money for its incumbent Republicans.

“These initial ad reservations should strike fear in the campaign offices of both Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson," said Tyler Q. Houlton, NRCC spokesman, in an e-mail. "With Republican candidates as strong as Stewart Mills and Torrey Westrom, we are going on offense and are in a great position to win in November.”

Minnesota delegation pushes Army to clarify new rules on sexual assault victim rights

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 10, 2014 - 5:11 PM

WASHINGTON -- Minnesota's eight House members and both senators collectively urged the Army Tuesday to clarify a new directive expanding legal services to victims of sexual assault in the National Guard.

The Army recently released new rules expanding important legal services to certain victims of military sexual assault, but the rules don't cover National Guard members who become victims of sexual assault outside drill weekends or military duties.

Minnesota's ten members of Congress say the directive will undermine the Minnesota National Guard's ability to "effectively provide support services to survivors of sexual assaults," according to a release.

The letter was led by Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP Rep. John Kline and co-signed by Democrat Sen. Al Franken and Reps. Collin Peterson, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Rick Nolan, and Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann and Erik Paulsen.

"Our Minnesota service members should not be impeded from seeking critical services in the aftermath of a sexual assault," the letter said. "The Army must provide clear guidance and direction in order for the National Guard to effectively provide these services authorized by Congress."

The letter comes as the Department of Defense scrambles to deal with the increasing problem of sexual assaults in the military. According to the delegation release today, the DoD found in May that overall reporting of sexual assaults in the military in 2013 was 50 percent higher than it was the previous year -- 5,061 in 2013 versus 3,374 in 2012. Previous year-to-year increases in reporting never exceeded five percent.

There are more than 13,000 soldiers and airman in the Minnesota National Guard.

Sens. Franken, Klobuchar push for more answers on prisoner swap

Posted by: Allison Sherry Updated: June 5, 2014 - 12:01 PM

WASHINGTON -- Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken said they are hoping for more answers from the White House on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released over the weekend by the Taliban in exchange for an agreement by President Obama to release five high-level prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.

In a classified briefing with all senators late Wednesday, White House officials divulged some details about the swap, including Bergdahl's reported deteriorating health. 

Franken, who said he was limited to what he could share, said, "a number of concerns that senators had expressed were addressed."

"I will reserve judgment as to whether all the answers were satisfactory," he said, in an e-mail after the meeting. "We know that once Bergdahl returns to the U.S., the circumstances of his capture will be thoroughly investigated. For now, questions remain about whether this was done in the proper way. I don't want to draw any conclusions as of now."

Sen. Klobuchar said in a short statement she had concerns.

"The briefing was classified so it limits what I can say. I continue to have concerns about what happened here and strongly believe that Congress should have been notified."

Neither senator granted interviews to the Star-Tribune on the matter.

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