August 11, 2020

Republicans Can Learn From Democrats’ Foreign Affairs Committee Contest

By Chris Estep

After 16-term incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel’s surprise loss to challenger Jamaal Bowman in June’s New York Democratic primary, congressional observers immediately began following the race to replace Engel as the Democrats’ leader on the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). HFAC’s oversight jurisdiction ranges widely, from U.S. policy toward Israel to U.S. relations with China. The contest among Democrats to replace Engel at the end of the current Congress will likely reflect many of the party’s divides over foreign policy, as progressive Rep. Joaquin Castro announced his bid for the gavel in July.

Republican legislators in both the House and the Senate have ample time to draw lessons from Engel’s loss and translate them into reform.

Republicans, however, can learn from Engel’s impending departure as HFAC chair and the race to replace him. The GOP, unlike the Democratic caucuses, adheres to rigid term limit rules for committee chairs and ranking members. In the House, the Republican conference’s rules limit ranking members and chairs of committees to a total of three two-year terms in these leadership positions. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are confined to six years of service as ranking members and six years as chairs of the same committee. These limits represent neither the best nor only option to ensure legislative accountability and leadership turnover. And with the next Congress still five months away, Republican legislators in both the House and the Senate have ample time to draw lessons from Engel’s loss and translate them into reform.

Read the full article in Lawfare.

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