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Deutch Outmaneuvers Sherman for Top Democratic Spot on Middle East Panel

In a last-minute putsch, Ted Deutch nabbed the ranking member slot on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, a post that Brad Sherman had expected to win.

Sherman, D-Calif., stepped aside Tuesday after it became apparent he did not have the votes to defeat Deutch, a replay of his decision not to challenge Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., for the top Democratic spot of the full committee despite having more committee seniority. Sherman’s double defeat appears to be payback for his bruising victory over fellow Democrat and former committee ranking member Howard L. Berman for a redistricted seat in Southern California in November. Most of California’s House Democrats endorsed Berman.

As late as Tuesday morning, Sherman apparently thought he has secured the Middle East panel job. Speaking at news conference to unveil a bill to allow visa waivers for Israelis, Sherman again predicted, “I’ll be ranking member” of the subcommittee. Noting that the Middle East subcommittee’s chairwoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., is a cosponsor of the legislation, Sherman observed that “having us both here demonstrates the importance of this bill.”

Sherman apparently did not realize that Deutch, D-Fla., had been amassing support in recent days for a run at the subcommittee ranking slot. According to Democratic aides, that support coalesced quickly and definitively in Deutch’s favor.

Ultimately, it became clear that Sherman did not have the votes needed, and the veteran California lawmaker announced to colleagues at the Tuesday afternoon committee meeting that he would instead bid for his previous post as ranking member on the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, a Sherman aide confirmed.

Easing the sting somewhat is the fact that the Middle East subcommittee will not have jurisdiction over Pakistan and South Asia in the new Congress, as it did in the 112th. Committee leadership opted to split up Afghanistan and Pakistan this year, keeping the Afghanistan portfolio under the Middle East Subcommittee’s jurisdiction but moving South Asia to the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee, under Chairman Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and ranking Democrat Del. Eni F.H. Faleomavaega of American Samoa.

Deutch and Sherman are hawkish on Israel and on sanctioning Iran for its nuclear activity. Both introduced pieces of legislation last Congress that were wrapped into larger sanctions laws targeting Tehran’s energy and financial sectors as well as human rights abusers.

Deutch, however, has taken a less confrontational tact than Sherman when pushing those priorities. Sherman has ruffled Democratic feathers in the past with his strident criticism of the Obama administration for what he sees as slow-walking on sanctions programs and for failing to get congressional approval to mount a military campaign in Libya. His aggressive campaign against Berman for the San Fernando Valley’s 30th district, which the two men contested in California’s open “jungle” primary system and then — as the top two vote-getters — again in the general election, soured many Berman allies, including powerful members of the Democratic leadership.

After his electoral victory, Sherman had been openly seeking the top spot on the Middle East subcommittee since losing out on the ranking member spot on the full committee in November. Sherman bowed out just before the Democratic caucus voted on committee posts after it became clear Engel had more support.

In a December interview, Sherman chalked that up to the fact that Engel has more seniority than him in total in Congress — Sherman leapfrogged Engel on the committee when the New York Democrat left it for a few years in the 1990s. Sherman also said at the time that “it’s very likely I’ll take the Middle East and South Asia” subcommittee on House Foreign Affairs, instead.

As ranking member of the terrorism and nonproliferation subcommittee, Sherman will still have a platform on sanctions policy and other arms control and counterterror programs he has long advocated for. He will team with the new chairman of that subcommittee, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas.

Deutch made clear Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear program will be a priority for him on the subcommittee.

“We face enormously consequential foreign policy challenges in the Middle East, from how we eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat and combat terrorism to how we strengthen Israel’s security and support Israel’s ongoing quest for peace, to how we advance democracy, gender equality and human rights in the region,” he said in a written statement. “I am honored to have this opportunity to help shape our responses to these challenges, and I look forward to working with my friend and Subcommittee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.”

Jonathan Broder contributed to this report.

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