WASHINGTON -- Rep. Tim Walz handily cleared the first hurdle in becoming the highest-ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, after Democratic party leaders threw support behind him this time.

The final vote is expected next week.

Walz, who represents southern Minnesota, won the steering committee vote held late Wednesday 31 to 19. He is the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress and has great relationships with national veterans groups and Republicans on the committee. The spot is open because the former ranking Democrat, Rep. Corrine Brown, faces federal corruption charges in Florida and lost her re-election bid in November.

"I want to do this because I believe in the possible and I believe this is a place we can work together," Walz said. "I think 10 years (on Capitol Hill) has shown that."

If selected, Walz faces all kinds of VA reform issues with the president-elect, who has tweeted and said on the campaign trail he believes veterans should be able to opt out of the public network of doctors and into the private sector.

"We are looking at the very future of the VA in the next six to 12 months," Walz said Thursday.