An Army veteran and Republican member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee stepped down from that panel on Friday amid charges of voter fraud and lying to law enforcement.
Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas, said in a statement that the moves are designed to allow the veterans panel and two others he is a member of to “continue their critical work” while he works to “fight these bogus charges.”
Earlier this week, the Shawnee County District Attorney charged Watkins with three felony counts related to illegally casting a vote in local Kansas elections last year. Officials said that he used the address of a UPS store for his home address to register for the election.
Watkins has insisted the incident was a simple mistake, and accused local officials of a politically motivated attack in the middle of his re-election campaign.
It’s unclear whether Watkins could have remained on his committees amid the local investigation. House Republican Caucus rules state that members facing certain felony charges must step down from their assignments while law enforcement work is conducted.
In 2018, then-California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter was forced to give up his committee assignments in the wake of campaign finance fraud charges. He eventually resigned from Congress altogether, and was sentenced to 11 months in prison earlier this year.
Watkins, 43, is a U.S. Military Academy graduate who deployed to Iraq in 2004. After his five years on active-duty, he traveled to Afghanistan to work as a defense contractor, where he said he sustained some injuries.
Sign up for the Retirement Report
Each week, get insights on military retirement benefits and issues
By giving us your email, you are opting in to the Early Bird Brief.
He has spoken about personal experiences with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat complications during his time in Congress and on the campaign trail.
Watkins has sponsored several bills related to veterans issues, including one considered by the committee this week dealing with veterans burial benefits.
On Friday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said he still supports Watkins but accepted his decision to step down from his committees.
The departure temporarily leaves the veterans committee with only 11 Republicans, compared to the 16 Democratic members. Watkins also stepped down from the foreign affairs and education/labor House committees.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.