Eliot Engel, the current chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was defeated in his primary by progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman. This means that in January, when the new Congress is sworn, in there will be a vacancy for the Chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Historically, the gavel has been given to whoever is the most senior on the committee. However, it is very rare that a chairmanship opens up on the Democratic side. This is because of the lack of term limits for committee chairs on the Democratic side.
The Potential Candidates
The vote on who will chair the committee will be decided in January, but the jockeying for the position has begun and there are three people seen as frontrunners at the moment. They are:
- Brad Sherman of CA-30
- Gregory Meeks of NY-05
- Joaquin Castro of TX-20
All three are currently campaigning for the spot, trying to lock down support of various caucuses within the House majority.
Historically, the gavel is given to whoever has the most seniority on the committee. After Eliot Engel that would be Brad Sherman. He is the candidate that would be the most similar to Engel. He supports free trade and a strong relationship with Israel.
Right now, however, it looks like he will not be the choice for the chairmanship. He does not have any large groups behind him. He might try and get the California delegation behind him, however, and bank the 40 votes that would secure.
The person who is a weak favorite for the chairmanship is Gregory Meeks. He would be a moderate turn away from the positions Eliot Engel took as chair. While he is supportive of free trade, he is also much more moderate on Israel. He is notable for voting to continue to support and give aid to the Palestinian Authority. He is also much more willing to negotiate with organizations that the United States considers terrorists, such as FARC.
Currently, Meeks can count on the support of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC). The CBC gives him 51 votes. He can also look at the rest of the New York delegation to give him their support in order to maintain the amount of influence the state has following the retirement of Nita Lowey and the loss of Engel.
A strong second for the gavel is the current vice-chair of the committee, Joaquin Castro. Castro would be a big change from Engel on Israeli policy. Castro voted against the House condemnation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which declared that Israeli settlements are a violation of international law. He is supported by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This gives him a large amount of support. The question is if he can get more support and if politicians that double-dip in both the Progressive Caucus and another caucus such as the CBC stay with him.
Right now it looks like a race between Meeks and Castro. Both will be a heavy departure from the Engel’s views on Israeli policy. The battle will come down to who can garner the most support and who can get the nonaligned caucuses, such as the Blue Dogs, on their side. With Democrats favored to hold the House, whoever comes out on top will likely hold a large amount of power.