The GOP side of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be drastically altered in the new Congress that began today, with four new members on the minority side led by Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the new ranking Republican.
Corker takes over for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), and he will have a roster of Republican members on the committee that is diverse and powerful. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) joins the committee for the first time. McCain is no longer the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, due to term limits, but remains on SASC as a rank and file member. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the new ranking Republican on SASC, relinquished his SFRC seat to make room for McCain.
Three active SFRC Republicans have left the committee. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) resigned to take over the helm of the Heritage Foundation. DeMint had been the ranking Republican on the international organizations subcommittee. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), the committee's ranking Republican on the Africa subcommittee, also will not return to SFRC. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who has been a vocal critic of the State Department's handling of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, has also left the committee.
Replacing them will be Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Rand Paul (R-KY), and newly minted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Paul has been a thorn in the State Department's side since he came to the Senate, pushing for drastic cuts in U.S. foreign aid and holding up several State Department nominees. His new SFRC perch will allow him to ramp up those activities.
Paul is also one of the two potential 2016 presidential contenders now on the committee, along with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who will retain his post as ranking Republican on the Western Hemisphere subcommittee and is sure want to increase his profile on foreign policy in preparation for a run at the White House.
Corker has repeatedly pledged to work to return the SFRC to a position of relevance by increasing its oversight of the State Department and completing a State Department authorization bill for the first time in several years. Several aides said Corker has been hiring minority committee staff at a steady pace under the leadership of Les Munson, previously chief of staff to Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL).
But Corker faces a GOP membership that will be decidedly split between hawks such as McCain and Rubio on one side, and isolationists like Paul, Johnson, and Flake on the other.
"It's a fascinating dynamics set," one senior GOP Senate aide said. "Corker is going to have his hands full."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.