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Eliot Engel

After a high-profile battle for New York’s 16th District Democratic primary nomination, the official election results were called on Friday: Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel was defeated. This marks a striking end to Engel’s three-decade career in Congress. A former middle school principal, Jamaal Bowman’s win is the latest major progressive victory over a prominent incumbent.

Not only does Engel’s ouster reflect an ongoing shake-up of the Democratic House establishment, but it also sets into motion a shuffle for his powerful committee chairman seat. Here are the possible picks for the spot:

Brad Sherman (CA, 30) If seniority has any bearing on the chairmanship, Sherman will be next in line. He was first elected to Congress in 1997 and is the second ranked member of the committee after Engel. Sherman has made support for Israel a top priority of his foreign policy focus — he has introduced legislation seeking to limit the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) Movement, including the Combating BDS Act of 2017 and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Sherman also serves in leadership roles on the Financial Services Committee.

Gregory Meeks (NY, 5) A long-serving member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Meeks is the other likely contender for the Foreign Affairs post. Meeks wasted no time, formally announcing the same day Engel lost his primary his intent to seek the committee chairmanship. He has centered his bid for the committee post around his drive to build coalitions to uplift vulnerable populations across the globe, citing protection of Uyghurs in China and LGBTQ communities in Chechnya. Like Sherman, he is a prominent member of the Financial Services Committee; he currently chairs the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions.

Joaquin Castro (TX, 20) The Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus announced his underdog bid for the committee post on Tuesday. Castro has served in Congress for less than half the time of each of his other two contenders, and yet his fresh perspective is exactly why he stakes his claim as best fit for the job:

We need a new generation of foreign policy leadership with a new vision that promotes inclusive prosperity and democracy at home and a more holistic view of security abroad.

Castro was elected Vice Chair of the committee in 2019 and serves as chairman on the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. As the only contender to be a member of both the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Castro played a significant role in questioning witnesses during President Trump’s impeachment inquiry.

Engel will likely hold the reigns of the committee until the end of his term, as Reps. Sherman, Meeks and Castro will all have to make their case to the Steering Committee and the full House in the coming months. If the progressive push from primary elections seeps its way into internal Democratic leadership positions, this chairmanship could be a first to mark a change in House Dem power dynamics.

Rowan Sockwell

Rowan Sockwell

Research Analyst, Congress