SEATTLE, Washington — On December 4, 2020, the House Democratic Caucus elected Representative Gregory Meeks (D-NY-5) to chair the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). This move elevated the Queens Congressman to the top of the House’s foreign policy arm and resulted in the first election of a Black House Foreign Affairs Committee chair in the nation’s history.
The ousting of the committee’s longtime chair, Rep. Eliot Engels (D-NY-16) in the New York June Primary, the Democrats’ retention of the House and the election of President-Elect Joe Biden created a unique opportunity for a sea change in American foreign policy. Now at the helm of the HFAC, Rep. Gregory Meeks will oversee this potentially transformative period. A look into Gregory Meeks’ foreign policy and stated commitments as the newly elected chair of the HFAC provides some insight as to how he could steer the committee.
A Return to Obama-Era Diplomacy
At the center of Rep. Gregory Meeks’ foreign policy is a return to diplomacy as the basis for approaching foreign affairs. Among Rep. Meeks’ plans for rebuilding diplomatic ties with international partners and allies includes reversing President Trump’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization and entering into negotiations with Iran to re-broker the Iran Nuclear Deal implemented under President Obama.
Rep. Meeks made it clear that he will be working closely with the Biden administration to reinvigorate the State Department and put a strong focus on diplomacy at the heart of the U.S.’ foreign policy: “We’ve got to get the State Department up and running,” He told NBC News after his election, “We’ve got to make sure that the morale is returned there and we get our diplomats back in and things begin to happen again.” Rep. Meeks expects to work closely with Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken. Together they can prime American diplomats to build lasting international relationships to build a diplomatic network that will facilitate tackling global health and humanitarian crises that pose a threat to national and international security.
Working With USAID and a Focus on Development
In his time in Congress, Rep. Meeks has had a long record of working with the State Department and USAID to promote foreign aid for disaster relief and humanitarian aid. In 2019, he was part of a delegation that USAID Administrator Mark Greene led. He went to the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian to provide $7.5 million in disaster relief. Rep. Meeks is a supporter of strengthening U.S. aid to Israel. J Street, a “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organization that seeks democratic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endorsed the congressman.
The core of Rep. Gregory Meek’s foreign policy is the use of foreign aid to assist the development of foreign nations and strengthening the global market by empowering vulnerable and disenfranchised peoples in foreign nations. Given the Biden administration’s commitment to “bring aid back to the center of our foreign policy,” Rep. Meek’s work with Biden’s State Department has the potential to revitalize USAID as an asset in pursuing humanitarian, developmental and diplomatic goals. Rep. Meeks has co-sponsored a number of bills pursuant to international development through foreign aid, including:
- H.R. 2153, the Keeping Girls in School Act, which grants USAID the authority to fund programs that assist women in foreign countries seeking secondary education.
- H.R. 1877, the African Descent Affairs Act, which seeks the establishment of an Office of Global African Descent Affairs to oversee the funding of programs and policies to protect the livelihoods of people of African descent worldwide.
- H.R. 3460, the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act, which provides support to the implementation of treatment of diseases that “primarily impact those living in extreme poverty, especially in developing countries.” It focuses on the elimination of diseases such as leprosy and dengue fever.
A Historic Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy
In accepting his new position as the House Foreign Affairs Committee chair, Rep. Meeks stated that “this will not be a return to normal, but a leap towards doing a new way of business.” While much of Gregory Meeks’ foreign policy does signal a return to Obama-era foreign relations, Rep. Meeks has pointed towards strengthening ties with developing regions that will be a vital part of the global economy in years to come. “We will broaden our scope and outreach to parts of the world we’ve historically overlooked. We will return as partners to our European allies, but we will also need to build new multilateral relationships in the Western Hemisphere and Africa.”
Taking office as HFAC chair in January, Meeks will inherit the management of a global pandemic and a tumultuous international landscape. He will play a crucial role in negotiating with foreign powers regarding the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, supplying aid to countries destabilized by the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding ties with allies to restore the global economy. Seated at the nexus of legislative power and the functions of the State Department, Gregory Meeks’ foreign policy and leadership will help determine the course of U.S. foreign affairs in the coming months and years.