race to the top

Crowded race shaping up for top GOP spot on House Foreign Affairs Committee

At least three Republicans are vying to replace Rep. Michael McCaul, who is seeking a waiver to serve an additional term atop the powerful foreign policy committee

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Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX)

A crowded race for the top Republican slot on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is taking shape, with the seat set to be potentially vacated at the end of the year.

Many of the possible contenders are seen as staunchly pro-Israel, with often similar records on the issue, and hold traditional GOP foreign policy positions, eschewing the isolationism that’s been making inroads in the party.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), the current chairman is, per GOP conference rules, term-limited as chairman at the end of this Congress. But he’s seeking a waiver to continue as chairman for another term, arguing to reporters last week that, given an array of global crises, the committee requires stability.

McCaul was a driving force who helped bring the national security supplemental bill to the House floor earlier this year and a vocal supporter of Israel, most recently attempting to negotiate bipartisan legislation to respond to the International Criminal Court and the Biden administration’s weapons holds. McCaul has publicly maintained a largely collaborative relationship with Rep. Greg Meeks (D-NY), the top Democrat on the committee.

Outside of HFAC, McCaul is also a leading GOP advocate for expanded Nonprofit Security Grant Program funding and a former chair of the Homeland Security Committee.

Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO), the current HFAC vice chair and a former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, is also making a bid. Wagner is a co-chair and co-founder of the House Abraham Accords Caucus, and has worked across the aisle with moderate pro-Israel Democrats in that role and other capacities. She and other caucus members recently launched a working group to plan for post-war Gaza.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), who’s reportedly running for the seat, currently leads the committee’s Middle East subcommittee, and notably broke publicly with Republican leaders to push for a vote on the full national security supplemental bill — not just the Israel portion — without funding offsets. He also signed onto a discharge petition seeking to force a floor vote on a joint Israel-Ukraine funding bill when the prospect appeared unlikely. Wilson, a military veteran, also led multiple bipartisan bills to improve U.S.-Israel military cooperation.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), a former chair of the House Oversight Committee, has been reported to have interest in the seat. Issa, the son of Lebanese Christian immigrants, faced criticism during his 2020 congressional run over old comments describing Israel as a potential  “apartheid” state, but maintains a strong pro-Israel record in Congress. He was among the lawmakers on a delegation trip to the Middle East when the Oct. 7 attack began, discussing normalization in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states.

Other senior members of the committee who have yet to declare their plans include Reps. Brian Mast (R-FL), Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Scott Perry (R-PA).

Mast, a military veteran who once volunteered with the IDF, is among the most outspoken opponents of a two-state solution in Congress. He wore an IDF uniform to the Capitol shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks,has outraged Democrats with comments questioning whether any Palestinains are “innocent” and pushed legislation to eliminate the U.N. Relief and Works Agency and block U.S. funding for Gaza. He voted against additional Ukraine aid, arguing that European nations should be footing the bill. Mast currently chairs the subcommittee on Oversight and Accountability.

Smith has for decades been outspoken against antisemitism — dating back to the days of the Soviet refuseniks — and in support of Israel. The New Jersey legislator has led investigations of the United Nations and UNRWA as part of his role as chairman of the Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, and frequently worked across the aisle on a range of Israel policy and antisemitism issues.

Perry, a military veteran and former Freedom Caucus chair, voted against the Israel supplemental bill earlier this year, a move that prompted AIPAC to pause fundraising for him. He’s also a skeptic of Ukraine aid. Perry has said he voted against the Israel bill over concerns about humanitarian aid for Gaza, which he has described as support for Hamas. His social media activity and public statements have also prompted accusations of antisemitism.

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