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Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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Congress Update: New House and Senate Committee Chairs

by Newsteam Staff
December 21, 2012

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill October 13, 2009. (Jose Luis Magana/Courtesy Reuters) Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) speaks during an immigration reform rally in front of the U.S. Capitol, October 13, 2009. (Jose Luis Magana/Courtesy Reuters)


In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin examines Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) views on topics like Libya, the Arab Spring, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Royce, the new House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, says that he intends to use Congress’ control of the purse strings to pursue a foreign policy of conditionality. “One piece of legislation was the  anti-incitement [bill] that I and [Rep.] Howard Berman tried to pass to tie aid to the Palestinian Authority to a set of criteria to require the end of [terrorist] incitement,” explains Royce. “The attempt is to create leverage to move behavior,” he adds.

Royce also says he plans to push the Obama administration to be more transparent and enable more Congressional oversight. He believes that Iran is currently the most pressing threat (Patch) to the United States and its allies. “We should be pressuring Tehran as hard as we can to stop its march to nuclear weapons. Checking nuclear proliferation worldwide will be a key Committee priority,” Royce argues.

Royce has served on the Foreign Affairs Committee since 1993, and said he will take the opportunity of the chairmanship to “focus on expanding economic opportunities for Americans overseas” (ABC).

In the Senate, it seems likely that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will take over the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, if Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), the current chairman, becomes secretary of state. The move would give Menendez “a key role in approving diplomatic nominees and international treaties–crucial leverage to demand a tougher stance against America’s foes,” says The Hill.

Menendez, the son of Cuban immigrants, is expected to push back on some of Obama’s desired policies, particularly regarding Cuba, The Hill reports:

The fiery rhetoric is in sharp contrast to Kerry’s steadfast support for Obama’s foreign policy agenda, notably in successfully pushing the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia through the Senate. Kerry, who is respected for working across the aisle despite his unimpeachable Democratic credentials, won the support of Republican Sens. Dick Lugar (Ind.), Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Johnny Isakson (Ga.) on his panel.

Menendez, for his part, has been a tough Republican critic on domestic issues, repeatedly denouncing the party’s plans to turn Medicare into a ‘voucher,’ for example. While not a traditional hawk–he voted against the 2002 Iraq war resolution–he is close to Republicans on several foreign-policy issues.

Alan Goodman writes in Commentary Magazine that “the White House can’t be thrilled with Menendez’s likely new role. He’s had no reservations about fighting the Obama administration over sanctions, nor clashing with them over Armenia and Cuba. The last thing Obama wants is a critic from his own party attacking his Iran policy from such a prominent perch in the Senate.”

Menendez may also clash with former Sen. Chuck Hagel if the latter becomes Secretary of Defense, reports Politico.

–Contributing Editor Kirsti Itameri

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