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House Foreign Affairs Eyes New Subcommittee to Investigate Trump

Focus would be potential financial ties between foreign governments and the president

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is expected to chair the Foreign Affairs panel come January. The panel could add an investigations subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is expected to chair the Foreign Affairs panel come January. The panel could add an investigations subcommittee. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is planning a reorganization in the new Congress that would emphasize investigating the Trump administration as Democrats take control of the chamber.

The anticipated changes, which include plans to streamline the subcommittee structure, were outlined in conversations with three House staffers, who added that the focus would be potential financial ties between foreign governments and President Donald Trump. The staffers were not authorized to be quoted discussing the changes in advance of official action.

The committee under the likely new chairman, New York Rep. Eliot L. Engel, is expected to create a new Investigations subcommittee and to eliminate the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee, created after the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We’re still a few steps away from knowing how the committee is going to look in the 116th Congress, but we look forward to hitting the ground running in January, getting organized quickly, and moving ahead with a full agenda,” a Democratic committee aide said.

The proposed changes would not be formalized until the full committee votes in January to adopt its rules and oversight plan. Engel has the endorsement to lead House Foreign Affairs from likely Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The proposed Investigations subcommittee’s scope has yet to be determined, and some cross-jurisdictional issues would need to be smoothed out between other incoming House Democratic chairmen, who have announced their own plans to investigate members of the Trump administration.

In particular, the House Intelligence and Oversight committees are likely to probe issues related to possible financial ties between Trump, his family members, his company and Russia and Gulf countries.

One of the first priorities for Engel, staffers said, will be to look into reports that Trump political appointees are retaliating against career State Department employees deemed insufficiently supportive of the president. Engel has unfulfilled transparency requests he has sent to State on the matter. Getting all outstanding information requests fulfilled will be an initial priority, committee staffers said.

But it is not clear who will head the new Investigations subcommittee, which could provide a high-profile position for an ambitious Democrat to scrutinize the Trump administration.

House Democrats traditionally determine subcommittee leadership positions by seniority. However, no member is allowed to lead more than one subcommittee at a time. Because of those rules, it’s possible that subcommittee leadership assignments will change.

For example, it’s possible California Rep. Ami Bera would wind up leading the new Investigations subcommittee, but only if more senior committee members prefer to keep the subcommittee chairmanships they are positioned to lead on other committees.

Rep. William Keating, who has seniority over Bera, would see his leadership position on the Terrorism subcommittee vanish. But the Massachusetts Democrat may prefer instead to become the chairman of the Europe subcommittee, whose current ranking member, Gregory W. Meeks of New York, is understood to be eyeing a subcommittee chairmanship on the Financial Services Committee.

Meanwhile, the workload of the Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade subcommittee would be redistributed throughout the five regional subcommittees.

There is discussion of also redistributing some of the jurisdiction of the Africa subcommittee, which currently includes oversight of global health, human rights and international organizations.

Under the leadership of outgoing Chairman Christopher H. Smith, the Africa subcommittee held far more hearings than any other subcommittee in the 115th Congress. Unlike the decision to replace the Terrorism subcommittee with the Investigations panel, potential changes to the Africa subcommittee’s scope are not settled.

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