Move to rename hospital erupts into partisan feud; Dem fears sponsor’s gain
A seemingly routine measure to rename a New Mexico veterans hospital for a recently deceased Medal of Honor winner has turned into a political feud in the House.
Republicans say House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat, is holding up a Republicansponsored bill to rename the Veterans Affairs Department’s medical center in Albuquerque for Korean War veteran Raymond “Jerry” Murphy for political reasons.
“This follows the Democrats’ theme of politics over substance,” said Rep. Steve Buyer of Indiana, the committee’s ranking Republican.
Mr. Filner counters that it is the Republicans who are cynically using the name of a war hero for political gain. He said Mr. Buyer is pushing the matter in order to boost the profile of the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Heather A. Wilson, New Mexico Republican.
“He is just taking this hero, Jerry Murphy, and using his name to get his lady from New Mexico reelected,” Mr. Filner said. “I think that’s offensive to veterans.”
Mr. Buyer called the explanation “warped” a day after a House floor spat with Mr. Filner over the bill, which he said is bottled up in committee.
“I totally understand that some people don’t want a veterans bill with my name on it to pass the House for political reasons,” Mrs. Wilson said.
Mrs. Wilson, who was one of the Democrats’ top congressional targets in the November elections, won a sixth term by fewer than 900 votes. Her district, which includes Albuquerque, is considered vulnerable for a Democratic takeover next year.
Mr. Filner said the bill, which has passed the Senate, will be considered for floor debate later this year.
He called Mr. Buyer confrontational. “All he does is confront me on the House floor. He never talks to me in a courteous way,” Mr. Filner said. “He doesn’t care about this stuff. He’s just trying to make an issue.”
Mr. Murphy, who died last month at age 77, served as a second lieutenant with the Marine Reserve in the Korean War. While commanding an infantry platoon in 1953, his unit was attacked by Chinese troops. Injured and under heavy gunfire, he rescued several men. He then picked up a rifle and held off the enemy, killing several, until all the men in his unit reached safety.
President Eisenhower awarded Mr. Murphy the Medal of Honor in October 1953 for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Mr. Murphy served as director of the Veterans Services Department in Albuquerque for 23 years until 1997. After his retirement, he volunteered at the city’s VA hospital.
He requested to be buried in his VA hospital scrubs.
“This bill isn’t about me or about anything political,” Mrs. Wilson said. “It’s about honoring Jerry Murphy’s life of service. I’d ask the House leadership to be respectful of this great gentleman’s memory.”