Senate Foreign Relations Committee Through the Ages

Posted January 15, 2010 at 5:23pm

President George Washington appears before the Senate to request a vote on a treaty being negotiated with Southern Indian tribes. Sen. Robert Morris of Pennsylvania does not want to debate or vote on the measure in Washington’s presence, so the Senate creates an ad hoc committee to examine the question — to Washington’s consternation. The Senate creates more than 200 temporary committees to consider treaties and U.S. relations with foreign countries over the next 27 years — though the term “foreign relations— does not appear in Congressional journals until 1812.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is established as one of 10 standing Senate committees. Sen. James Barbour of Virginia becomes the first of 55 committee chairmen. The committee has five members at the outset, though the number fluctuates throughout history, topping out at 23 in 1946. Currently the committee has 19 members.

Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky becomes committee chairman for two years.

Sen. James Buchanan (D-Pa.) becomes committee chairman and holds the gavel for five years. He later becomes secretary of State and the 15th president of the United States.

Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.), a leading opponent of slavery, becomes committee chairman and advises President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. But his attempts to keep former Confederate leaders out of leadership positions in the Senate after the war backfires, and his opposition to President Ulysses Grant’s attempts to annex Santo Domingo prompt Grant’s Congressional allies to maneuver to remove him as committee chairman in 1871.

The committee ratifies treaties that lead to the U.S. purchase of Alaska.

Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) leads the successful fight against the establishment of the League of Nations, as the committee votes not to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.

Sen. William Borah (R-Idaho) becomes committee chairman and leads the effort to keep the U.S. out of the World Court.

The committee moves into its current suite, S-116 and S-117 of the Capitol. The rooms had previously been used by several other committees, and in the first years of the 20th century housed the Senate Post Office. Sen. Key Pittman (D-Nev.) becomes chairman and sponsors neutrality legislation designed to keep the U.S. out of European conflicts.

Sen. Tom Connally (D-Texas) takes over as chairman and, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, leads the fight to repeal neutrality legislation as the U.S. enters World War II. Connally, who is frequently mistaken for a relative of former Texas Gov. John Connally (D), was the step-grandfather of former Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and the step-great-grandfather of current Rep. Connie Mack IV (R-Fla.). Connally serves as chairman through 1947 and then from 1949 to 1953.

The committee hires its first professional staff. Francis Wilcox, who later becomes assistant secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower, is the first chief of staff.

The committee is instrumental in supporting the Truman Doctrine, which reiterates America’s position as a world superpower — and its opposition to communism.

The committee ratifies the Marshall Plan, which provides the economic foundation for the rebuilding of Europe following World War II.

Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.) becomes chairman and serves for 16 years, longer than any other Foreign Relations chairman in history. In the 1960s, a Georgetown University student from Arkansas named Bill Clinton works in his Capitol Hill office. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Fulbright becomes an influential critic of the Vietnam War.

Senate creates a Select Committee on Intelligence, taking that aspect of foreign policy oversight out of the Foreign Relations Committee’s portfolio.

Committee Chairman Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) and Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.), a committee member, negotiate the departure of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos following an uprising that eventually installs Corazon Aquino as president of the country.

Committee Chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) flexes his — and the committee’s — muscle by refusing to schedule a hearing on President Bill Clinton’s nominee to be ambassador to Mexico, Massachusetts Gov. William Weld (R). His opposition to Weld is largely based on Weld’s support for abortion rights.

The committee holds a field hearing at the United Nations — the first time the committee as a whole ever visits an international institution. Later that year, the U.N. Security Council visits Capitol Hill for a day of meetings hosted by the committee.

Committee Chairman Joseph Biden (D-Del.) is elected vice president of the United States.

Source: Senate Foreign Relations Committee