Every two years there are opening on different committees. Some come from retirements, some from deaths, and others come from election defeats. This year there are three chairmanships that became open: Agriculture, Appropriations, and Foreign Affairs. The Steering Committee deliberated and produced new chairs last week.
In November 2020, Colin Peterson lost his reelection to Minnesota’s 7th congressional district. The battle lines were drawn early for the gavel. After the election, the three most likely candidates were David Scott, Jim Costa, and Marcia Fudge. Fudge decided not to run, turning the race into an east vs west, city vs. rural, and Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) vs. Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) battle.
The result of the Steering Committee vote was 32 votes for Scott and 19 votes for Costa. There are not that many differences in the policies that either will advocate. Both are Blue Dogs on the right flank of the Democratic caucus. Scott may favor a broader emphasis on the Farm Bill than Peterson as he represents a far less rural district. Therefore, he does not have as many agricultural interest groups in his district. Costa losing the race is a blow to ranchers. They considered Costa one of their own and were looking to shape agriculture policy in their favor. Overall, this is not a major ideological change and we should expect a standard Ag. bill to be produced by the committee.
Eliot Engel, the current chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was defeated in his primary by progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman. This means that the Foreign Affairs chairmanship was up for grabs. There were three representatives gunning for the gavel: Brad Sherman, who is second in seniority on the committee, Gregory Meeks a member of the CBC from New York, and Joaquin Castro, a relative newcomer on the FA committee and the progressive choice.
The result of the deliberations was Meeks with 29 votes, followed by Castro with 13 and Sherman with 10. This went almost exactly as I predicted in July. While Meeks 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. We should expect a more dovish policy to be produced by the comittee and a more frosty relationship with Israel.
This is the biggest gavel outside of the Speaker, Majority Leader, and Whip. This is the spot that decides budgets and who’s pet projects get funded. That means that the representatives who go for it tend to be heavy-hitters and people who have paid their dues by waiting for their turn. This chairmanship opened up after the retirement of New York Democrat Nita Lowey.
Like the Foreign Relations Committee, there were three people gunning for the gavel: Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. The Steering Committee results were DeLauro with 36 votes, Wasserman with 11, and Kaptur with six.
This will lead to no real ideological change on the committee. Both Lowey and DeLauro are relatively progressive. DeLauro will look to implement a liberal agenda with appropriations. One of the big changes is that DeLauro is on the record in supporting earmarks; she’s said that she will “support reintroducing earmarks with the appropriate guardrails”. This change will allow congressmen to directly advocate for getting funds to their district without having to rely on bi-yearly bills that fund each department.
Overall, this cycle did not lead to any major changes to the composition of the committee chairs. There is still a Blue Dog as Agriculture Chair and there is still a progressive as Appropriations Chair. The only major change is that Meeks is slightly less hawkish than Engel. However, even he is close to Engel’s ideology in most other ways. We should not expect any major departures from the previous Congress.