Considered Forthwith: House Foreign Affairs Committee

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Welcome to the 24th installment of “Considered Forthwith.”

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

Reality got in the way the past two weeks, but I am finally back. This week, Considered Forthwith will examine the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This committee has considerably less official authority than its Senate counterpart. Notably, the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over treaties and appointments — including ambassadorships — as as required by the Constitution. I plan to examine that committee next week.

This week, however, I will be looking at the committee that dates back to the early days of the Revolution.


Howard Berman of California is the chair of the committee and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is the ranking member. Berman is a solid progressive, but he did vote for the 2003 Iraq invasion and the 2008 Patriot Act amendments. However, he also voted for the Kucinich resolution to investigate Bush on lies leading to the Iraq war.

He is also a staunch supporter of Israel, saying in 2008, when he took over the chairmanship from the late Tom Lantos:

Even before I was a Democrat, I was a Zionist

Here is the rest of the committee membership:

Democrats: Howard Berman, California, Chairman; Gary Ackerman, New York; Eni Faleomavaega, American Samoa; Donald M. Payne, New Jersey; Brad Sherman, California; Robert Wexler, Florida; Eliot Engel, New York; Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts; Gregory Meeks, New York; Diane Watson, California; Adam Smith, Washington; Russ Carnahan, Missouri; Albio Sires, New Jersey; Gerry Connolly, Virginia; Michael McMahon, New York; John S. Tanner, Tennessee; Gene Green, Texas; Lynn Woolsey, California; Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas; Barbara Lee, California; Shelley Berkley, Nevada; Joseph Crowley, New York; Mike Ross, Arkansas; Brad Miller, North Carolina; David Scott, Georgia; Jim Costa, California; Keith Ellison, Minnesota; Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona; Ron Klein, Florida

Republicans: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida, Ranking Member; Chris Smith, New Jersey; Dan Burton, Indiana; Elton Gallegly, California; Dana Rohrabacher, California; Donald Manzullo, Illinois; Ed Royce, California; Ron Paul, Texas; Jeff Flake, Arizona; Mike Pence, Indiana; Joe Wilson, South Carolina; John Boozman, Arkansas; J. Gresham Barrett, South Carolina; Connie Mack, Florida; Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska; Michael McCaul, Texas; Ted Poe, Texas; Bob Inglis, South Carolina; Gus Bilirakis, Florida


The committee has jurisdiction over pretty much every issue that affects relations between the United States and the rest of the world, including international drug trafficking. Here is the committee’s statement of jurisdiction:

The Full Committee will be responsible for oversight and legislation relating to: foreign assistance (including development assistance, Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Millennium Challenge Account, HIV/AIDS in foreign countries, security assistance, and Public Law 480 programs abroad); the Peace Corps; national security developments affecting foreign policy; strategic planning and agreements; war powers, treaties, executive agreements, and the deployment and use of United States Armed Forces; peacekeeping, peace enforcement, and enforcement of United Nations or other international sanctions; arms control and disarmament issues; the United States Agency for International Development; activities and policies of the State, Commerce and Defense Departments and other agencies related to the Arms Export Control Act, and the Foreign Assistance Act including export and licensing policy for munitions items and technology and dual-use equipment and technology; international law; promotion of democracy; international law enforcement issues, including narcotics control programs and activities; Broadcasting Board of Governors; embassy security; international broadcasting; public diplomacy, including international communication, information policy, international education, and cultural programs; and all other matters not specifically assigned to a subcommittee.

The Full Committee will have jurisdiction over legislation with respect to the administration of the Export Administration Act, including the export and licensing of dual-use equipment and technology and other matters related to international economic policy and trade not otherwise assigned to a subcommittee and with respect to the United Nations, its affiliated agencies and other international organizations, including assessed and voluntary contributions to such organizations.

The Full Committee may conduct oversight with respect to any matter within the jurisdiction of the Committee as defined in the Rules of the House of Representatives.

The seven subcommittees have their own jurisdiction and I have provided links at the end.

Iran Sanctions

The Committee has scheduled a mark up of HR 2475, the “Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act” for Oct. 28, beginning at 10 a.m. I can’t figure out if the markup with be available via webcast (assuming that C-Span does not show it live.) If it is available on line, the link should appear here.

Berman introduced the bill at the end of April and currently has 330 co-sponsors. The act, as currently written:

Amends the Iran Sanctions Act of 1996 to direct the President to impose two or more current sanctions under such Act if a person has, with actual knowledge, made an investment of $20 million or more (or any combination of investments of at least $5 million which in the aggregate equals or exceeds $20 million in any 12-month period) that directly and significantly contributed to Iran’s ability to develop its petroleum resources. (Under current law the sanction thresholds are $40 million, $10 million, and $40 million, respectively.)

This is what is meant by the Traditional Media meme of “tightening sanctions.” If the bill passes intact, Americans could only invest $20 in Iran’s oil refining efforts, rather than the current level of $40 million. I would expect the significant amendments to focus on moving those numbers higher or lower. I also suspect that the White House quietly asked Chairman Berman not to advance the legislation while President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton publicly and privately tried diplomacy. Should this bill pass by a veto-proof margin — and there is little reason to think it would not — the American diplomats can blame the new sanctions on Congress while continuing diplomacy.

The companion bill in the Senate, is S 908. It was introduced by Evan Bayh two days before the House bill and has been sitting in the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee ever since. It has 75 cosponsors.

(Hint for anyone  using Thomas LOC: the link for CRS summary provides a plain language statement of what the bill does as currently written.)


Saying that Burma has a spotty human rights record is like saying torture is a bit uncomfortable. Ever since the 1962 coup, the military junta has brutally suppressed democratization efforts and human rights is the last thing on the rulers’ minds. The United States certainly has an interest in seeing a democratic Burma. The problem is that Burma’s neighbors are more interested in the country’s mineral resources than the well-being of the country’s people. Specifically, China has close ties with Burma and has been funding numerous infrastructure projects in the country in spite of recent ethnic violence in the border region. Burma has scheduled elections next year, but the U.S. State Department is not particularly optimistic that the elections will be free and fair and the British said at the beginning of this year that elections would simply entrench the military government.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday, Oct. 21, to discuss the issue of Burma. As I have discussed before, Congressional hearings do not result in new policy, but they do allow both members and witnesses to grab headlines and possibly set the news agenda.

The committee will hear from:

Kurt M. Campbell

Assistant Secretary

Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs

U.S. Department of State

Tom Malinowski

Advocacy Director

Human Rights Watch

Chris Beyrer, M.D., MPH

Professor of Epidemiology, International Health, and Health,  Behavior, and Society

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Aung Din

Executive Director

U.S. Campaign for Burma

Aung Din spent more than four years in prison — sometimes in solitary confinement, naked, in total darkness — after organizing and leading Burma’s nationwide pro-democracy uprising in August 1988 as vice chairman of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions.  ABFSU, the largest student organization in Burma, is outlawed by the ruling military junta.

Other committee news

Northern Ireland: The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight will hold a hearing regarding allegations of collusion between police and paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland. The implication is that the British government implicitly supported Loyalist/Protestant armed groups against the IRA and other Republcan/Catholic groups during the “Troubles.” Witnesses include a man whose father was killed by Loyalists and another man whose son was killed by Republicans.  Both men previously met with President Bush in 2007.

Violence against women: The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight will hold a hearing Wednesday, Oct. 21, to discuss worldwide violence against women. It should go without saying that the problem is not insignificant. A recent ten-country study by the World Health Organization found that:

Between 15% and 71% of women reported physical or sexual violence by a husband or partner.

Many women said that their first sexual experience was not consensual. (24% in rural Peru, 28% in Tanzania, 30% in rural Bangladesh, and 40% in South Africa).

Between 4% and 12% of women reported being physically abused during pregnancy.


About 5,000 women are murdered by family members in the name of honour each year worldwide.

Trafficking of women and girls for forced labour and sex is widespread and often affects the most vulnerable.

Forced marriages and child marriages violate the human rights of women and girls, but they are widely practiced in many countries in Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Worldwide, up to one in five women and one in 10 men report experiencing sexual abuse as children. Children who experience sexual abuse are much more likely to encounter other forms of abuse later in life.

The committee will hear from Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Melanne Verveer Ambassador-at-Large, Office of Global Women’s Issues, U.S. Department of State; Mallika Dutt, Founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough; and actress and activist Nicole Kidman.

So why would the committee invite a celebrity to testify? Let’s face it. More people have heard of Nicole Kidman than Mallika Dutt. Kidman’s star power will inevitably make more reporters, including the celebrity rags, take notice to the hearing and more people will be interested in reading about it. This is strategic thinking by the committee chair to increase interest in the hearing and possibly increase pressure to take action on the problem.

International Child abduction
:  The Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight will hold a hearing Oct. 29 on the problem of international child abduction. The problem is addressed by the Child Abduction Section of the Hague Convention. As with any transnational crime, enforcement can be a difficult matter. Obviously, child custody law varies by country. If a parent takes a child to another country and refuses to return, the other parent may go through a bureaucratic nightmare to get the child back. This was at the heart of the Elian Gonzalez affair in 2000.

The hearing will include testimony from Patrick Braden of Los Angeles. Braden’s daughter was taken to Japan by her non-custodial mother in 2006. Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. Also testifying will be George David Goldman of New Jersey. His now late wife took their son, Sean, to Brazil. The boy’s new step father, a lawyer, is fighting for custody. The situation has created a low-level diplomatic row between the United States and Brazil.

Both governments have indicated that they consider the decision by Goldman’s wife, Bruna Bianchi, to move Sean to Brazil in 2004 a violation of the Hague Abduction Convention, an international treaty that seeks to determine whether children have been wrongfully removed from their country of habitual residence.

The State Department, as well as the Brazilian government authority that deals with the treaty, has called for Sean’s return to the United States. But the case remains in federal court in Brazil awaiting a ruling on whether the treaty has been violated.

Join the conversation

The committee has an innovative feature on its website. They offer a link to “Join the Conversation.” Currently, they are soliciting citizen input on foreign assistance reform. USAID has more information about the issue.


If you remember U.S. history, you may recall the Committee on Correspondence that was established during the Revolution. The committee in its current from traces its history back to this Committee on Correspondence, which was chaired by Benjamin Franklin and charged with representing the nascent nation in its relations with Europe. Later, in the early years of Congress, committees were only formed as needed. In 1807, for example, a committee was formed to deal with British and French forces preying on American shipping. This was the era of the Napoleonic Wars and both countries needed all of the sailors they could find. On the high seas, American soldiers were vulnerable to impressment. This was one of the main issues that led to the War of 1812.

Ten years after the war, the House established the standing committee on foreign affairs. Even though the Executive Branch traditionally takes the lead in foreign relations, the committee was able to use the “power of the purse” to push for important foreign policies like Marshall Plan to help Western Europe recover from World War II and to end American involvement in Vietnam. The Subcommittee on Africa worked on sanctions against South Africa to force an end to apartheid and the bill passed over President Reagan’s veto.

Read more history here.


There are seven subcommittees. In the interest of keeping this post somewhat short, I will dispense with the usual details. Here is a link to the subcommittees page. The subcommittees are:

Subcommittee on  Africa and Global Health

Chairman Donald M. Payne

Ranking Member Christopher H. Smith

Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment

Chairman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega

Ranking Member Donald A. Manzullo

Subcommittee on Europe

Chairman Robert Wexler

Ranking Member Elton Gallegly

Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade

Chairman Brad Sherman

Ranking Member Edward R. Royce

Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights and Oversight

Chairman Bill Delahunt

Ranking Member Dana Rohrabacher

Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia

Chairman Gary L. Ackerman

Ranking Member Dan Burton

Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere

Chairman Eliot L. Engel

Ranking Member Connie Mack

Next week I will look at the committee’s Senate counterpart.

For more information, see my past work:

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

Joint Committee on Taxation

House Oversight Committee

Conference Committees

Senate and House Budget Committees

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Senate and House Armed Services Committees

Small Business Committees

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming

The Committee Primer

House Education and Labor Committee

Senate Finance Committee

Senate HELP Committee

Senate Judiciary Committee

House Energy and Commerce Committee

House Ways and Means Committee

House and Senate Appropriations Committees

House Intelligence Committee

House Judiciary Committee

House and Senate Ethics Committees

House Science and Technology Committee

House Financial Services Committee

House Rules Committee

The Role of Committees

This entry is posted at Congress Matters, Daily Kos, Progressive Electorate, Docudharma, and my own blog.


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    • rossl on October 19, 2009 at 21:54

    This is unrelated to the diary, but any interest in helping to promote the National Initiative for Democracy?

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