SEATTLE, Washington — A power vacuum emerged in the center of Congress’ foreign policy arm when Rep. Jamaal Bowman ousted Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-17) in New York’s June Primary. Engel served as the chair or ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee since 2013. The Democrats have retained their majority in the House. This means that whomever the House Steering and Policy Committee assigns as chair to the House Foreign Affairs Committee will oversee the House’s approach to foreign policy. Three members of the Democratic Coalition have declared their candidacy for the House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair. Each candidate boasts different visions for the future of foreign policy as well as how to implement foreign aid to strengthen national security and take on global poverty.
1. Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY-5)
The second most senior Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks has a long history of advocating for the use of foreign aid to assist in the development of foreign nations. He also works to strengthen the global market by empowering vulnerable and disenfranchised peoples in foreign
nations. In fact, Meeks co-sponsored H.R. 1877, the African Descent Affairs Act of 2019. This act seeks the establishment of an Office of Global African Descent Affairs to oversee the funding of programs and policies to protect the livelihoods and promote the prosperity of people of African descent worldwide.
Additionally, Rep. Meeks has co-sponsored H.R. 2153, the Keeping Girls in School Act. This act grants USAID the authority to fund programs that assist women in foreign countries in seeking secondary education and addresses “societal, cultural, health and other barriers that adolescent girls face in accessing quality secondary education.” In his extensive work on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and USAID, Meeks has made strides to deploy foreign aid to promote the health and safety of people abroad and assist
nations that face obstacles in developing healthy, equitable economies. This Includes his part in a Congressional delegation that supplied $7.5 million to the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian.
2. Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20)
The four-term Representative from Texas shook up the race for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair, which he called a traditionally “behind-the-scenes process,” when he announced his candidacy for the position in July. While conversations on leadership assignments are usually relegated to Congressional insiders and members of the House, Castro put a public spotlight on the internal race for the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair when he called for “a new generation of foreign policy leaders” and the necessity to put diplomacy at the center of the U.S.’ foreign policy.
Like his twin brother, former Presidential contender Julián Castro, Rep. Joaquin Castro has stressed the need to adjust America’s foreign policy in Central America. Furthermore, he noted that American foreign policy has contributed to but can also mitigate the migration crisis in Northern Triangle. Much of Castro’s foreign policy and aid focuses on promoting peace abroad. He has called for the repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which gave the United States permission to engage in military operations in the Middle East. He says he will steer American foreign policy towards humanitarian aid. Castro has also called for the United States to take leadership in assisting foreign countries ravaged by COVID-19. Recently, he has pushed for $20 billion in foreign aid to combat the global spread of COVID-19.
3. Rep. Brad Sherman (CA-30)
California’s Brad Sherman is the most senior Democrat of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has served on the committee for 24 years and has served on all six of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittees. He has been a leader in bipartisan legislation to bolster global health, provide disaster relief and protect human rights abroad. Sherman has argued that foreign aid can be a great asset to national security and diplomacy. He has pushed for increased aid to U.S. allies, such as Israel and Armenia.
In 2019, Rep. Sherman and Republican Rep. TJ Cox (CA-21) put forth a letter to USAID encouraging the agency to recommit to humanitarian landmine clearance in the Nagorno Karabakh region. They argued that the demining program, led by The HALO Trust, has saved thousands of lives and ceasing operations would endanger the war-torn region. Most recently, Sherman has sponsored a bipartisan resolution calling for an end to enforced disappearances in Asia. This proposal aims to protect vulnerable groups such as the Sindh in Pakistan and Uyghur Muslims in China. In his time in Congress, Sherman has sponsored 172 pieces of legislation, a testament to his years of work in promoting national security and human rights preservation.
The Future of the Committee
The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee will not be formally assigned until January although movement from within the House says much about the campaign for the leadership role. A number of progressive organizations and coalitions have endorsed Castro, including the Sunrise Movement and the Hispanic Caucus. Though Sherman is the senior-most member of the committee, Meeks is seen as the overall frontrunner for the chair, having support from the Congressional Black Caucus, who have called for a focus on diversity in leadership roles. The three candidates have different approaches to foreign policy, but each shares the similar goal of promoting diplomacy, peace and security through American leadership and bolstering foreign assistance.