US Democrats pick Meeks to chair House Foreign Affairs Committee

New York Congressman Gregory Meeks will be the first African American to chair key House Foreign Affairs Committee.

US Congressman Gregory Meeks told The Hill last month that he plans to focus on rebuilding the US State Department and strengthening the country's ties to its allies [File: John Minchillo/AP]
US Congressman Gregory Meeks told The Hill last month that he plans to focus on rebuilding the US State Department and strengthening the country's ties to its allies [File: John Minchillo/AP]

United States Congressman Gregory Meeks has been elected the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, making him the first African American to lead the powerful congressional body.

Meeks, a Democrat who represents New York’s 5th District and a senior member of the Congressional Black Caucus, defeated Texas Democrat Joaquin Castro in a vote of 148-78. Brad Sherman of California earlier dropped out of the race.

“I am incredibly honored to be elected,” Meeks said in a statement after his victory.

He said the committee in the incoming Congress would “preside over a historic shift in US foreign policy”, promising to work to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal and the World Health Organization, both of which President Donald Trump withdrew from during his time in the White House.

“This will not be a return to normal, but a leap towards a new way of doing business,” Meeks said.

He said that means re-engaging with the US’s European allies, as well as building new relationships in the Western Hemisphere and Africa and addressing key global issues, such as climate change.

“We will need to take back Congress’ constitutional authority, tightening the scope of AUMFs that have led to ambiguous forever wars,” Meeks also said.

We will need to take back Congress' constitutional authority, tightening the scope of AUMFs that have led to ambiguous forever wars,

Gregory Meeks

In a statement on Thursday, Castro – the more progressive of the two candidates for the committee chairmanship – said he looked forward to working with Meeks, “particularly on our common goals such as promoting diversity at the US State Department and rejoining the Iran nuclear deal”.

Meeks will take over from Eliot Engel, another New York Democrat who, in June, lost a Democratic primary for his House seat.

“I’m confident that [Meeks] will also carry forward the committee’s tradition of legislating and oversight driven by what’s best for American interests, not partisan gain,” Engel said in a statement.

“As my time as Chairman comes to an end, I’m glad to be leaving the gavel in such good hands.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is responsible for legislative oversight on a range of foreign policy issues, including US war powers, national security affecting foreign policy and foreign assistance, among other things.

Priorities and policy positions

Meeks told US news outlet The Hill last month that if he won the chairmanship, he would focus on rebuilding the country’s relationships with its allies and rebuilding the US Department of State.

“The State Department is at its lowest in morale in all of the 22 years that I’ve been in Congress,” Meeks said. “As I talk to diplomats, career diplomats, it is unbelievable from what they tell me as to the low morale and what has taken place there.”

In an interview with C-SPAN in September 2019, Meeks criticised Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

He also said that the US president’s decision to pull the US out of a multilateral nuclear deal – under which the Iranian government agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions – was “a mistake”.

 

Earlier year, Meeks called for conditioning US aid to Israel to pressure the country to abide by international law and respect human rights, but he quickly reversed his position.

“We know the extreme importance in the region to make sure that Israel has the right to defend itself, and the dollars that we give Israel to defend itself [are] absolute and unequivocal,” Meeks said, as reported by The Times of Israel.

Meeks has been a staunch defender of Israel within the Democratic Party, tweeting in 2018 that “Israel is our strongest ally and I support its right to defend itself.”

In August, he welcomed a US-brokered deal to normalise diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, calling it “a major milestone for the region”.

Palestinians rejected that agreement as a betrayal and an attempt by the Trump administration to help Israel cement its control over the occupied Palestinian territories.

Source: Al Jazeera

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