House leaders are expected Thursday to resolve an internal GOP battle over who gets tapped as ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee — an influential post that Republicans in the running say will be vital to protecting President Trump’s foreign policy agenda when the House is under Democrat control.
“I see the committee as having a role in promoting the most effective form of foreign policy that can be achieved,” said Rep. Joe Wilson, locked in a close race with Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida. Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, the panel’s longtime chairman, is retiring.
There’s a lot at stake, since Rep. Eliot Engel, previously the committee’s ranking Democrat and now its incoming chairman, has made no secret of Democratic plans to launch wide-ranging probes into Mr. Trump’s foreign policy. The New York lawmaker told The Washington Post just after the midterms that he’ll hold hearings on topics ranging from Russia and Saudi Arabia to possible conflicts of interest related to President Trump’s global business holdings.
It’s a situation that’s prompted wariness among Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which was known in the Royce years for its bipartisan temperance, even at times of heated politics.
While Mr. Wilson said this week he has a “good association” with Mr. Engel — the two formed a bond while traveling together on a bipartisan delegation to North Korea — the South Carolina Republican also expressed concern over the prospect that Democrat frustration toward the Trump administration could spill into the committee.
“I fully anticipate that the Democrats’ agenda will be one of interrogation and investigation,” Mr. Wilson told The Washington Times, adding that he and other Republicans need to be prepared to soberly counter the agenda, all while keeping a mind open to potential bipartisan cooperation on real world fronts.
“More than pushback, we simply need to be prepared to tell the truth by having correct facts,” he said. “We will be prepared to work with the administration and with our leadership in every way to have a message of consistency about the truth and, I believe, the successes of the administration.”
Hill insiders say Mr. McCaul of Texas is also very much in the running for the ranking Republican post, coming off his service as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
Mr. McCaul has been on the Foreign Affairs Committee for the same number of years as Mr. Wilson, and has gained a reputation as a leading party voice on foreign policy issues, heading bipartisan delegations to hot spots around the world in recent years, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.
The seven-term lawmaker expressed a willingness to stand up for Mr. Trump’s foreign policy goals.
“We cannot let the Democrats stop the forward-leaning and successful ‘America First’ foreign policies that the president and Secretary [of Sate Mike] Pompeo are advancing,” said Mr. McCaul, who served as a member of Mr. Trump’s national security team during the 2016 campaign.
“I have a strong relationship with President Trump, having served as a member of his campaign’s National Security Team,” he said. “I continue to promote and support the Administration’s conservative agenda to the American people.”
Capitol Hill sources say Mr. Yoho, who assumed office in 2013 and has earned respect on foreign affairs as chairman of the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee, also has a shot. As a member of the House Freedom Caucus, the Florida Republican is seen to back some of the Trump administration’s more controversial foreign policy initiatives, such as Mr. Trump’s stated desire to take a private business-minded scalpel approach to the budget for aid that State Department connected agencies spread around the world each year.
In an interview this month with The Hill, Mr. Yoho said his “whole goal when I came to Congress was to get rid of foreign aid.”
“But I’ve transitioned because I realize you’re not going to get rid of foreign aid, but you can reform it,” the congressman said. “My goal is to move from aid to trade, and we can do that by developing economies and investing in the right infrastructure.”
Mr. Wilson, meanwhile, said a trade-based foreign policy, and particularly the pursuit of lucrative foreign investment in the U.S, would be a central pillar to his own approach if elected as ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
It’s something he told The Times he’s been passionate about since his work in as a legislator in South Carolina helping lure foreign companies such as Michelin and BMW to invest in the state before coming to Congress.
But it was something else, Mr. Wilson said, that first truly drove his interest in foreign affairs.
“My dad served in the Flying Tigers in World War II,” he said, adding he grew up with “great appreciation” for America’s unique position in that world.
The congressman himself is a retired brigadier general in the Army National Guard and all four of his sons have served in the U.S. military overseas, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s really a family heritage,” he said. “Our family has a real appreciation of foreign affairs.”