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GOP's Fractured Views on Foreign Policy on Display

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Corker says that the range of GOP members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not necessarily a problem.

Individual political aspirations further color the GOP side of the committee — Paul and Rubio are being hyped as potential 2016 presidential candidates, while Johnson has an eye on the Senate leadership ladder.

Then, of course, there is Sen. John McCain of Arizona, in many ways the Senate Republicans’ elder statesman on foreign policy even though he is, in effect, a freshman on the Foreign Relations Committee (he joined it just this year). His advocacy for more muscular intervention in Syria — which he pushed Kerry on last week — and elsewhere has set him apart from most of the rest of his caucus.

“All of that adds energy and interest to the committee itself,” Corker says of those disparate outlooks. “It’s been — let’s face it — pretty dull. So I’m glad to have active members and have strong opinions about what ought to be happening.”

Authorization Time?

One of the things Corker would like to see the committee dive into is an authorization bill, which would outline the legal parameters for State Department and foreign aid programs. He said last week that the “importance of having a full authorization” was one of his three takeaways from the hearing with Clinton. “I think it would be very edifying for the committee to go through that process,” Corker added Monday. “I don’t think people have any idea of all the things the State Department is involved in, and that’s not appropriate — that’s what we should be doing.”

Other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are also on board. McCain this week called such legislation “vital.”

“In order to make the Foreign Relations Committee relevant, we have to do an authorization bill,” he said. “Otherwise, it makes the appropriators the only relevant body.”

And according to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., “there’s a fair amount of unanimity among both Democrats and Republicans that this would be a good thing.”

Ultimately, Corker acknowledged, the decision to push forward with such legislation will be up to Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who is expected to succeed Kerry as Foreign Relations chairman once the Massachusetts Democrat departs Friday afternoon for Foggy Bottom. Menendez’s office did not reply to an inquiry about the senator’s support for an authorization bill.

But he may well be deterred by the failures of past chairmen — roughly a decade has passed since Congress succeeded in enacting State Department authorization legislation.

In the 112th Congress, House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., took a stab at it, introducing a far-reaching bill that touched on most aspects of American foreign policy. After a 29-hour committee markup, the bill went nowhere, a victim of the crowded floor schedule and of leadership’s desire to avoid contested issues like funding for family-planning services overseas and bilateral relations with Pakistan. Those issues come up in appropriations bills as well, but in recent years that legislation has been rolled into an omnibus bill, with no floor debate.

Shaheen said Tuesday that “it remains to be seen” whether the broad spectrum of ideologies on Foreign Relations will hinder the panel as it tries to move legislation.

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