Republicans vying for key spot on House Foreign Affairs committee

November 28, 2018

House leaders are expected Thursday to resolve an internal GOP battle over who gets tapped as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee an influential post that Republicans in the running say will be vital to protecting President Trump’s foreign policy agenda when the House is under Democrat control.

“I see the committee as having a role in promoting the most effective form of foreign policy that can be achieved,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, whom Capitol Hill sources say is the likely front-runner in a close race with Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida. All three are jockeying with the House Republican Steering Committee in hopes they’ll be picked to replaces retiring Rep. Ed Royce of California, who had been the Foreign Affairs Committee’s chairman.

There’s a lot at stake, since Rep. Eliot Engel, previously the committee’s ranking Democrat and now its incoming chairman, has made no secret of Democrat plans to launch bare-knuckle probes into Mr. Trump’s foreign policy. Mr. Engel of New York told The Washington Post just after the midterms that he’ll hold hearings on Russia, Saudi Arabia and other matters, including what a Post columnist referred to as the Trump Organization’s international conflicts of interest.

It’s a situation that’s prompted wariness among Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which was known in the Royce years for its bipartisan temperance, even at times of heated politics.

While Mr. Wilson said this week he has a “good association” with Mr. Engel the two formed a bond while traveling together on a bipartisan delegation to North Korea the South Carolina Republican also expressed concern over the prospect that Democrat frustration toward the Trump administration could spill into the committee.

“I fully anticipate that the Democrats’ agenda will be one of interrogation and investigation,” Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times, adding that he and other Republicans need to be prepared to soberly counter the agenda, all while keeping a mind open to potential bipartisan cooperation on real world fronts.

“More than push back, we simply need to be prepared to tell the truth by having correct facts,” he said. “We will be prepared to work with the administration and with our leadership in every way to have a message of consistency about the truth and, I believe, the successes of the administration.”

“Promises made, promises kept,” he added, pointing to Mr. Trump’s follow-through on campaign promises to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and to pursue diplomacy with North Korea.

But Mr. Wilson also said he’ll “work with” Mr. Engel. “People can disagree with Congressman Engel,” he said. ”[But] I know him to be a person of honor and integrity. I would work with him. It is really in the tradition of the Foreign Affairs Committee to [embrace] bipartisanship.”

What remains to be seen is whether the nine-term congressman the most senior lawmaker among those vying for the ranking member spot will come out on top.

Rep. McCaul of Texas is rumored to be close in the running, coming off his success in recent years chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

“I have the leadership and real-world experience to best serve our Republican Conference and nation,” Mr. McCaul told The Times, adding he’d be no less committed to standing up for the Trump administration’s foreign policy against Democrat-led attacks.

“We cannot let the Democrats stop the forward-leaning and successful ‘America First’ foreign policies that the President and Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo are advancing,” said Mr. McCaul, who’s been a Republican congressman since 2005.

“I have a strong relationship with President Trump, having served as a member of his campaign’s National Security Team,” he said. “I continue to promote and support the Administration’s conservative agenda to the American people.”

Capitol Hill sources say Mr. Yoho, who assumed office in 2013 and has earned respect on foreign affairs as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, also has a shot. As a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the Florida Republican is seen to back some of the Trump administration’s more controversial foreign policy initiatives, such as Mr. Trump’s stated desire to take a private business-minded scalpel approach to the budget for aid that State Department connected agencies spread around the world each year.

In an interview this month with The Hill, Mr. Yoho said his “whole goal when I came to Congress was to get rid of foreign aid.”

“But I’ve transitioned because I realize you’re not going to get rid of foreign aid, but you can reform it,” the congressman said. “My goal is to move from aid to trade, and we can do that by developing economies and investing in the right infrastructure.”

Mr. Wilson, meanwhile, said a trade-based foreign policy, and particularly the pursuit of lucrative foreign investment in the U.S, would be a central pillar to his own approach as ranking member on Foreign Affairs.

It’s something he told The Times he’s been passionate about since serving during the late-1980s through the 1990s in the South Carolina Legislature, where he worked on the state Senate’s foreign affairs committee to lure the French tire manufacturer Michelin to invest in South Carolina.

Mr. Wilson said he’s since played central roles in recruiting BMW to build its largest facility in the world in South Carolina and is currently working to get the South Korean electronics giant Samsung to invest in the state.

The congressman said his professional involvement in foreign affairs deepened during his state Legislature years when the International Republican Institute tapped him in 1990 to participate as an election observer in Bulgaria.

When he later won a U.S. House seat in 2001, he began getting more deeply involved serving during the years since as chair of the Bulgaria Caucus and the French Caucus, co-chair of the Slovak Caucus, and as a member of the Afghanistan, Kurdistan, and the Americans Abroad caucuses.

But it was something else, Mr. Wilson said, that first truly drove his interest in foreign affairs.

“My dad served in the Flying Tigers in World War II,” he said, adding he grew up with “great appreciation” for the world beyond America’s borders and for the nation’s unique position in that world.

The congressman himself is a retired Army National Guard brigadier general, and all four of his sons have served in the U.S. military overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond.

“It’s really a family heritage,” Mr. Wilson said. “Our family has a real appreciation of foreign affairs.”

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