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GOP Fields Thin Bench on Foreign Relations

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Bob Corker is next in line to be the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Those trends speak to the broader marginalization of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Senate, particularly among Republicans. The GOP caucus continues to rank the panel, along with the Armed Services, Appropriations and Finance committees, as a “Super A” committee. Senate Republicans are allowed to serve on only one Super A committee at a time, unless they obtain a waiver from the party.

But while Armed Services, Appropriations and Finance all continue to maintain their cachet among lawmakers — largely because they offer ample opportunity to promote parochial interests — Foreign Relations is no longer regarded as such a plum post. While it used to pass regular State Department authorization bills, that practice screeched to a halt during the 1990s. Its main sources of clout now stem from authorizing treaties and confirming nominations.

It’s one of the reasons the committee now draws few GOP Senators with any intention of staying on for the long term and developing expertise on the issues before the panel.

Lugar himself has lamented the “considerable” turnover on the committee in recent years. In an interview last fall, he said he has tried to encourage new Members to stay on the committee, “and, in fact, some have rather loyally stayed with it.”

“But then, finally, they feel because of constituent interests that they need to move elsewhere,” he said.

Most leading Republican voices on foreign policy in the Senate now come from outside the committee — John McCain (Ariz.), ranking member of Armed Services; Lindsey Graham (S.C.), ranking member of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department; and Mark Kirk (Ill.), who has emerged as a key player on Iran sanctions and broader Middle East policy.

That pattern is bound to continue, regardless of who is at the helm of Foreign Relations.

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