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Congress

Democrats Just Took Two Steps Backward on Foreign Affairs

The party has become a hydra sprouting new heads that also happened to vote for the Iraq war every time we lop one off.

Gregory Meeks
C-SPAN

On Wednesday afternoon, the House Democratic Caucus elected New York Rep. Gregory Meeks to the chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), a powerful body that helps shape America’s activities abroad and provides oversight for the State Department and other externally-focused arms of the government.

HFAC needed a new chair because in November, progressive Jamaal Bowman wiped out Eliot Engel, the chair of HFAC and a notorious warhawk. So you may think that a change in power there would be a good thing. However, let’s take a look at Meeks for a second.

From an incredibly comprehensive story in The American Prospect earlier this week:

His foreign-policy experience is based largely on his enthusiastic embrace of anti-union free trade policies like the Central American Free Trade Agreement and his outstanding personal advocacy for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a deal which resulted in the killing of unionists, as In These Times reported. He even co-founded the Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Caucus at a time when most Democrats were opposed to the deeply unpopular trade proposal. Labor groups are currently pushing Nancy Pelosi to oppose Rep. Meeks’s elevation on his record on trade alone, Axios reported Tuesday.

Seems… not great? Let’s read on (emphasis mine):

A number of Meeks’s other forays in foreign-policy adjacent activity have ended in scandal. A 2013 trip he took to Azerbaijan was supposedly funded by nonprofits but turned out to be actually funded by oil companies BP, Conoco Phillips, and SOCAR, the national oil company of Azerbaijan. That corporate-funded junket violated House rules. Upon returning, he pushed to exempt an Iran-backed natural-gas project from U.S. sanctions, a move supported by those companies. And in 2006, Rep. Meeks traveled to Venezuela and spoke with President Hugo Chavez as a favor to a generous donor, financier R. Allen Stanford, about a legal dispute Stanford was having with Gonzalo Tirado, the head of his Venezuelan bank. Tirado was indicted by Venezuelan authorities in 2007; in 2012, Stanford was sentenced to 110 years in prison for running a Ponzi scheme.

Oh dear. Well maybe he does well for his constituents at home?

Rep. Meeks’s record on domestic issues is even more concerning. For three straight years, he ranked on Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s list of the most corrupt congresspeople. “Given the breadth of his misdeeds, it is surprising Rep. Meeks hasn’t found himself in handcuffs already,” said CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan in the midst of that ignominious streak.

I think by this point you get the picture — the Prospect’s blog is great, and if you’re interested you definitely click over to that.

The point here, however, is that to get Meeks in the slot the Democrats willingly passed over Joaquin Castro, another senior (but not quite as senior) member of the committee. Indeed, Meeks easily nabbed the recommendation of the House Democratic Steering committee which basically tells the party who to vote for, and coasted past Castro in the full election. (Incidentally, these committee elections are great bellwethers for knowing who our allies actually are. Ro Khanna, who’s often outspoken on progressive foreign policy issues, publicly supported Meeks, which should tell you something about his priorities.)

Washington’s insipid emphasis on seniority has crippled congressional politics for years. It’s how we get an absolutely decrepit Dianne Feinstein cooing over Catholic cult member Amy Coney Barrett’s family in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. With Meeks, it’s clear that seniority is also being used to ensure that the granular levels of congressional power stay in ideological lockstep with the Biden administration, even if that means putting a comically corrupt dude in the seat. There’s no way ideas like this, from Castro’s Medium post announcing he would seek the chairmanship, could get through:

That means repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that’s proliferated U.S military engagements. We must bring the nearly two decade war in Afghanistan to an end. We must end the U.S. government’s role in the Saudi-led war in Yemen, doing everything we can to end the severe human suffering exacerbated by the Trump administration’s suspension of humanitarian aid. The House Foreign Affairs Committee must take a leading role in reclaiming War Powers from the Executive branch. After years of blood and treasure lost in endless wars, COVID-19’s daily death toll is a tragic reminder that our military might alone cannot protect us from global challenges.

As Paul Blest pointed out earlier this morning, the left is getting absolutely hosed at almost every level by the Biden transition. It’s not going to be any different in Congress for several more terms at least, until the progressive wing can stack up the power to start flipping some of these committee chairmanships. Meeks won his primary by 50 points, beating a young, progressive Marine veteran who didn’t get much national attention. And in New York’s 5th district, those 50 percentage points only represented about 35,000 votes. He ran unopposed in the general. For better or worse, now he will sit atop one of the most powerful committees in the House. The Democratic Party, at this point, has become a hydra sprouting new heads that also happened to vote for the Iraq war every time we lop another one off. The only thing to do is keep swinging the ax.