The Cable

Meet your new House Foreign Affairs chairwoman: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen

Now that the Republicans are projected to take control of the House, we here at The Cable would like to introduce you to the next head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Ros-Lehtinen has been a force on the committee for years as the vocal, passionate, sometimes combative ranking Republican. A Cuban-American lawmaker from a heavily Jewish district, Ros-Lehtinen has staked out firm positions on several issues that stand in contrast to now outgoing chairman Howard Berman (D-CA). Her ascendancy as chairwoman will change the tone and agenda of the committee and will pose new challenges for the Obama administration's efforts to advance its foreign-policy agenda.

Over the mid to long term, Ros-Lehtinen is poised to thwart Obama's efforts to move toward repealing sanctions on Fidel Castro and resist any White House attempts to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She isn't likely to move Berman's foreign-aid reform bill through the committee and she is likely to seek cuts in the foreign-aid budget in her authorization bill.

But most significantly, gone will be the days when the committee deferred to the administration on the order of foreign-policy priorities. The committee will also stop taking the administration's word when it comes to matters of policy oversight.

For example, although Berman and Ros-Lehtinen agreed on the need to push tough sanctions on Iran, Berman delayed action on the bill to allow Obama's engagement effort to play out. Ros-Lehtinen might not be so accommodating.

"The Berman people were ahead of the Obama team on a number of things, but they deferred to the administration on timing. You are going to see more aggressiveness, to push an agenda and not to defer to the administration," said a Republican congressional aide.

We're also told that there's no love lost between the staffs of Berman and Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen's staff is said to be very disciplined and at the same time aggressive. They are not easy to negotiate with, according to our sources, and very effective at achieving their aims.

In the near term, Ros-Lehtinen could cause complications for the administration's foreign policy in a number of ways. She is a Russia skeptic, and wants more investigation into the civilian nuclear agreement with Russia that is currently before the Congress. Congress probably won't move to block this deal, but Ros-Lehtinen is sure to schedule hearings to pick apart future deals planned with Jordan, South Korea, and Vietnam.

Ros-Lehtinen will be pushing the administration to strictly enforce new sanctions law against Iran. If the mere threat of penalties under the law doesn't entice large international companies to leave Iran, she will call for the administration to start punishing those companies, even if they are from China or Russia.

Immediately after the election, Ros-Lehtinen will be leading a bipartisan congressional effort to demand more information about the administration's planned sale of $60 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, the largest arms sale in U.S. history.

In a previously unreported letter, obtained exclusively by The Cable, Ros-Lehtinen joined with Berman to demand that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates answer several outstanding questions about the deal.

"We are writing to raise concerns and pose a number of strategic questions about the impact such sales would have on the national security interests of the United States and our allies," they wrote. The Obama administration defends the deal as vital, and Israel raised few objections.

"There are a lot of questions to be answered on this," a GOP House aide said. "If Israel doesn't strongly object that doesn't mean it's not problematic."

If the GOP is able to exert more control over foreign policy, that will also impact how foreign leaders and foreign governments interact with the United States. Foreign countries will have to pay more attention to Congress, and may further discount President Obama's ability to deliver.

"Gridlock has some implications of its own," said Heather Conley, senior fellow and director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "We're sending a message to international leaders that they will have to work both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue."

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The Cable

House loses its leader on repealing Don't Ask, Don’t Tell

Patrick Murphy, the charismatic, young two-term Democratic Congressman from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, led the successful effort in the House of Representatives to repeal the ban on gay soldiers serving openly.

He lost his bid for a third term Tuesday night to the same man he narrowly defeated in 2006, Republican Mike Fitzpatrick.

Murphy was not only the first veteran of the Iraq war elected to Congress. He was a West Point graduate, served with the 82nd Airborne Division, and was a law professor at the Army War College, all before being elected to Congress at the age of 33. Heavily courted by Hillary Clinton, he passionately endorsed then-underdog Barack Obama early in the presidential race.

Murphy took over the leadership of the drive to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell in 2009 when Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) left Congress to become the State Department's top arms control official. Murphy toured the country lobbying for gay service members' right to be honest about their identities. He argued that as a war veteran, he knew that this generation of troops did not care about the sexual orientation of their brothers in arms.

"Arguments for keeping this policy in place are weak and outdated," Murphy often said. "To remove honorable, talented and patriotic troops from serving contradicts the American values our military fights for and our nation holds dear."

Murphy wasn't only active on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. On the House Armed Services Committee, he introduced legislation to increase oversight of military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. He opposed the 2007 surge in Iraq, going against his patron, the late Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA).

As one of Murtha's top lieutenants, Murphy benefited from Murtha's powerful post as head of the defense appropriations subcommittee. In his second term, Murphy was named to the appropriations committee, leapfrogging several unhappy lawmakers. He brought home millions for his notoriously purple Philadelphia suburb. But none of that could save him from the tidal wave of political energy that swept out scores of Democrats on Tuesday.

The Don't Ask, Don't Tell law still has not been repealed by Congress. The Senate may vote on it as part of the defense policy bill after the election. But the House passed the bill 289-186 in May, so Murphy leaves Congress with that accomplishment intact.

And don't take him off your radar yet, Bucks County is known to go back and forth, and went to Barack Obama in 2008. The district is also the childhood home of your humble Cable guy.

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