The Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee have chosen their leaders in a process that featured a dramatic behind-the-scenes battle for the Middle East subcommittee.
Ranking Democrat Eliot Engel (D-NY) alluded to the controversy only obliquely in his statement following Democratic members' closed-door membership meeting Tuesday. "The Democratic members of the Foreign Affairs Committee represent a wide range of views and experiences, and we will work together to help ensure that U.S. foreign policy best serves our national interests," Engel said. "I especially want to offer a warm welcome to our new members who will play a prominent and vital role on our committee. I also look forward to working with Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) in a spirit of bipartisanship to address the important foreign policy challenges facing our nation."
But Engel might have some diplomatic work to do within his own caucus first. The battle for the Middle East subcommittee was between Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), Sherman, the third ranking Democrat on the committee, seemed in line to take over the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee., having recently defeated longtime HFAC stalwart Howard Berman in a bitterly contested Democrat-on-Democrat race.
As of Tuesday morning, Sherman seemed to think he had the position. When subcommittee chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said Sherman would be the new ranking Democrat on the subcommittee at a Tuesday morning news conference, Sherman agreed with her. But by the time the committee meeting was held, Sherman realized he didn't have the votes.
"Deutch pulled off a coup and unseated Sherman," one source inside the meeting told The Cable. "Sherman had no idea Deutch has been mounting a whip operation to take the subcommittee from him."
Two sources confirmed that Deutch called Sherman before the meeting to tell him he had the votes. At the meeting, Sherman tried to lobby committee members anyway. But he soon realized he would not win, so when time came to officially bid for the post, Sherman demurred.
"He knew he didn't have the votes so he decided to head off the humiliation of a vote by taking his old subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade," the source said.
Sherman's Chief of Staff Don MacDonald said that Sherman was genuinely conflicted about which subcommittee to bid for and that his staff was giving him different advice on how to proceed.
"Brad spent little time lobbying colleagues. Deutch lobbied very hard. Brad is not unhappy with the terrorism subcommittee," McDonald said. "Brad has not held himself out as ranking member for the Middle East subcommittee. We may have said it was likely he would bid for that. In the end, it was a tough decision."
Deutch, whose chief of staff happens to be named Josh Rogin (no relation), issued a statement after the meeting setting out his broad agenda as the new subcommittee ranking member.
"There is no region of the world more significant to the national security of the United States than the Middle East, and to have earned the confidence of my colleagues to serve as Ranking Member is truly humbling," he said. "We face enormously consequential foreign policy challenges in the Middle East, from how we eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat and combat terrorism to how we strengthen Israel's security and support Israel's ongoing quest for peace, to how we advance democracy, gender equality and human rights in the region. I am honored to have this opportunity to help shape our responses to these challenges, and I look forward to working with my friend and Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen."
Ros-Lehtinen has been working with Sherman on a number of Iran related bills and seemed to have preferred him as her subcommittee leadership partner.
The other ranking Democrats chosen Tuesday were Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) for the subcommittee on Africa, global health, global human rights, and international organizations, Rep. William Keating (D-MA) for the subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and emerging threats, Rep. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega (D-Samoa) for the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, Rep. Albio Sires (D-NJ) for the subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere.
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John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.