With Democrats capturing the House of Representatives and Republicans maintaining their majority in the Senate, the Foreign Affairs Committees of both chambers will look different come January.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will have a new leader.
Senator Bob Corker, a Republican who has chaired the committee since 2007, is leaving the Senate. In his decade as SFRC chair, Corker established himself as a pragmatist, driven less by ideology than by results. This is particularly on issues relating to the United Nations. While some in his party sought to punish the UN by threatening to withhold funding, Corker preferred a pragmatic approach to multilateral engagement. In this respect, he served very much in the mold of Richard Lugar, the previous Republican chair of the committee.
Corker’s final role as chair of the committee will likely be to oversee confirmation hearings for Nikki Haley’s replacement. A nomination is expected this week.
Corker will be replaced by Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho. (Marco Rubio previously said he would not mount a challenge for this position.) Risch is currently the Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism. He has been an enthusiastic supporter of Donald Trump on most issues and does not have a robust foreign policy track record. He would be far less likely than Corker to challenge Trump should Trump seek to drive wedges between the United States and its longstanding allies of NATO.
In the House, New York Democrat Eliot Engel will likely serve as the chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Engel currently serves as the top Democrat on the committee and his ascendence to the chairmanship of the committee would likely mean far more oversight of President Trump’s foreign policy moves, including potentially subpoenaing records of Trump’s controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
Engel is an Iran hawk, and this may inform much of his decision making in the coming year. He opposed the Iran nuclear deal, though last year he wrote an op-ed arguing that President Trump should not abruptly pull out of the deal. Engel has also been a traditional supporter of strong US-Saudi ties, in part because he sees Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran. Even in the wake of the Khashoggi murder, it is unclear the extent to which he would be willing to upset the US-Saudi alliance, though he has called for a “full accounting of what happened.”
Engel is also an ardent supporter of Israel. He backed the Trump administration’s controversial decision to relocate the United States Embassy to Jerusalem and routinely stakes out staunchly pro-Israel stances. And it is through this lens that he often approaches issues involving the United Nations. Still, he supports engagement with the United Nations and was sharply critical of the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Human Rights Council, despite it’s criticism on Israel. He was also critical of the Trump administration’s decision to withhold funding for the UN Population Fund.
On other issues, like climate change and the transatlantic alliance, Engel has staked out conventional progressive foreign policy views. Engel is one of the longest serving members of Congress, having represented the Bronx for twenty years. As such, he has developed longstanding relationships with world leaders and knows institutions like the United Nations very well.