on the hill

Meeks wins House Foreign Affairs chairmanship

The New York Democrat has long been viewed as the favorite to replace Rep. Eliot Engel

Bebeto Matthews/AP

Congressman Gregory Meeks, D-NY, Wednesday, May 22, 2019, at LaGuardia Community College in New York.

House Democrats chose Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) to lead the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a virtual caucus meeting Thursday afternoon.

Meeks, who has been in office since 1998 and represents portions of Queens and Nassau County, has long been viewed as the favorite choice to replace Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) — who lost his primary election to Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) — as the head of the influential committee, according to Democratic staffers.

Meeks beat out Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), the current vice chair, for the position by a vote of 148 to 78. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), who had entered the race  this summer, dropped out after coming in third in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee vote on Tuesday.

Meeks said in a statement Thursday night that he was “incredibly honored” to have been elected to help move the committee into a “new era of U.S. global affairs,” and pledged, among other initiatives, to work to rejoin the nuclear agreement with Iran and limit the scope of authorizations for use of military force.

“This will not be a return to normal, but a leap towards a new way of doing business,” Meeks said. “We will return as partners to our European allies, but we will also need to build new multilateral relationships in the Western Hemisphere and Africa.”

He also pledged that the committee would seek to engage directly with foreign nations through bipartisan delegations and call a variety of witnesses, including from “organizations and non-traditional diplomats” in its efforts to reform the State Department.

In a statement following the vote, Castro congratulated Meeks and said he looks forward to working with him on issues including rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement (JCPOA).

“I’m proud to be part of a growing progressive foreign policy movement. I sought to conduct this race in the most transparent and accountable manner possible, welcoming new voices and participating in over a dozen virtual forums,” Castro said. “We must rebuild America’s infrastructure of diplomacy, and I believe that the United States at its best can be a North Star in the world on issues like freedom, democracy, rooting out corruption, and human rights.”

Engel offered high praise for Meeks in his own statement, saying, “I’m glad to be leaving the gavel in such good hands.”

“Serving many years together on the committee, I’ve seen up close Greg’s deep knowledge of foreign policy issues, his profound commitment to an American foreign policy rooted in our values, and his understanding of the importance of Congress’s role in these matters,” Engel added. “I’m confident that he will… carry forward the committee’s tradition of legislating and oversight driven by what’s best for American interests, not partisan gain.”

Meeks has cast himself as a strong supporter of Israel. On an American Jewish Committee call in August, he rejected calls to condition aid to Israel. “We know the extreme importance in the region to make sure that Israel has the right to defend itself,” Meeks said at the time, “And the dollars that we give Israel to defend itself is absolute and unequivocal.” 

He also urged fellow politicians to travel to Israel “anytime they get the opportunity,” in response to a push by the Democratic Socialists of America for New York City Council candidates to commit to not visiting the Jewish state.

Meeks has expressed support, however, for a measure that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. military assistance to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank, and has made it clear he opposes annexation. 

The New York congressman also said he is “absolutely opposed” to the planned U.S. sale of F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates, which Congress is expected to vote on later this month. He raised concerns on a Democratic Majority for Israel call in September that the UAE may have signed the Abraham Accords normalization agreement with Israel in an effort to secure the advanced stealth jets.

“I hope that the UAE did not agree to recognize Israel thinking that that will enhance their opportunities to get these planes,” Meeks said. “I hope that they’re doing it for the right reasons. Time will tell. But I’m absolutely opposed to the sale. I hope that it wasn’t for the political convenience of the president. I hope that it’s for really trying to get and have peace in the region.”

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), the chair of the subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa and International Terrorism, told JI, “I’m confident that under Representative Meeks’ historic Chairmanship, this committee will continue to lead efforts to restore American leadership, support our allies, stand up to adversaries, and defend human rights.”

This post was updated at 7:25 p.m. on 12/3/20.

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