The Cable

Berman’s loss reshuffles the foreign policy deck on Capitol Hill

The departure of House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) ranking Democrat Howard Berman (D-CA) from Congress following his loss to Brad Sherman Tuesday night will shake up the foreign-policy leadership in the Democratic caucus and leave a large gap in several specific issues that Berman made his own.

Berman lost one of the ugliest and most costly of this political season Tuesday to fellow Californian Brad Sherman night despite having the endorsements of several top lawmakers and former officials from both sides of the aisle, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and the three amigos of Senate foreign policy John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sherman outspent and out campaigned Berman in the contest to represent the newly drawn district that forced the two sitting senior lawmakers to go head to head.

In Congress, Berman will be remembered for his decades of tireless work on foreign policy and his reputation as a legislator who sought to build consensus to push forward a bipartisan agenda, including sanctions against Iran, the strengthening of the alliance with Israel, and the defense of the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. Berman was also a globetrotter, spending time maintaining relationships with foreign officials abroad, something Sherman attacked him for during the campaign.

"Howard Berman has been one of the most effective legislators in Congress, someone who has inspired both bipartisan and bicameral respect for his principled and thoughtful leadership on national security issues, as well as for his warmth and decency," Lieberman told The Cable. "Although Howard's time in the House of Representatives is unfortunately now ending, he leaves behind an unmatched record of accomplishment, and I hope the next administration finds ways to make use of his unique talents in our nation's service."

With Berman's exit, the top Democrat spot on the committee is set to be vacant. The next three Democrats on the committee in order of seniority are Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Eni Faleomavaega (D-Samoa), and Sherman. But the odds-on favorite to replace Berman on the committee is Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), according to House aides.

Ackerman is retiring. Faleiomarvarga wants the job, but as a delegate without full congressional powers, he will face difficulty lobbying for the honor. He's said to be in poor health, is not a lawmaker known for his fundraising prowess (which counts when it comes time to choose committee chairs), and his reputation has suffered by revelations that he has been taking free trips to Bahrain sponsored by his lobbyist friend while also defending the Bahraini regime.

Sherman may make a play for Berman's committee leadership post, but his vicious election battle may have earned him some enemies on the committee, and members could block Sherman's accession a final favor to their departing colleague Berman, aides said.

"That leaves Engel, who has the seniority, visibility, and is on the right side of the foreign-policy issues most people care about in Congress," one House Democratic aide told The Cable.

On the Republican side, HFAC committee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) has reached her term limit and must hand over the reins of the panel. The next five Republicans on the committee by seniority are Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Donald Manzullo (R-IL), and Ed Royce (R-CA).

The consensus on Capitol Hill is that Royce will get the job. Smith is hugely active on human rights issues but not known for leadership on the wider range of issues for which the committee is responsible. Rohrabacher is known for invoking controversy and sometimes igniting international scuffles and is likely to stay as the chair of the oversight and investigations subcommittee. Gallegly and Manzullo are retiring, Manzullo to be the next president of the Korea Economic Institute. Ros-Lehtinen is said to be angling for the Middle East Subcommittee chair now held by Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH).

When Berman leaves, some of his pet issues will lose their biggest advocate and perhaps their legislative momentum. Berman and his staff wrote a foreign aid reform bill. He also wrote comprehensive legislation to reform the export control regime. He dived deep into the issue of international intellectual property rights. He once lobbied Egypt to allow the export of Lulavs (palm fronds) to head off a shortage before the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Hill aides said that Berman will be missed.

"He's the last of the Mohicans, very much in the mindset and style of [departing SFRC ranking Republican Sen.] Richard Lugar. At their heart, they are both policy wonks," one House Democratic aide said. "Neither of them are flashy, nor care for gratuitous headlines, but are more concerned with getting things done. When it comes to foreign policy in the House, there just aren't many people like Howard left, certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee."

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

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