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Four vie for top GOP Foreign Affairs spot; McCaul seeks waiver

Challengers Wagner, Wilson and Issa are from the GOP's internationalist wing

Reps. Joe Wilson, left, and Ann Wagner, center, both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are seeking to become the top Republican on the panel next year.
Reps. Joe Wilson, left, and Ann Wagner, center, both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, are seeking to become the top Republican on the panel next year. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The competition to be the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in the next Congress is gearing up even as the panel’s current chairman is hoping for a waiver to continue to hold the top spot in January — if he doesn’t go to work for a potential second Trump administration.

With six months left in the current Congress, three senior members of the committee have thrown their hats into the GOP leadership race, their offices confirmed: Vice Chairwoman Ann Wagner of Missouri, Middle East Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson of South Carolina and Rep. Darrell Issa of California.

After three terms as the committee’s top Republican, Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas is term-limited out of the position by House GOP rules unless he receives a waiver from the Republican Steering Committee, which largely acts as an arm of the conference’s leadership.

McCaul is seeking that waiver even as he simultaneously keeps his options open in case presumed Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is elected in November and taps him for a senior national security post, said House Foreign Affairs communications director Leslie Shedd.

“When President Trump is back in the White House, he is going to need someone in Congress who can quickly help him undo the damage President Biden’s weakness has created. That is me,” McCaul said in a statement. “The world is on fire — now is the time for consistent leadership.”

McCaul, who previously chaired the House Homeland Security Committee, said his relationships and experience in getting committee bills passed, including 67 measures that made it through the House and 18 that became law, are needed at a time when conflicts are raging in Europe and the Middle East and there is the potential for an armed showdown with China. McCaul had two terms as the committee’s ranking member before becoming chairman when Republicans took the House majority in 2023.

It’s not clear when the Steering Committee will decide on McCaul’s request for a waiver, but Shedd said her boss saw it as important to put down a marker of his intentions early. She said McCaul is interested in doing whatever he can to assist a potential second Trump White House enact its foreign policy agenda and is completely open to leaving the Hill to serve in the administration.

Shedd declined to discuss the merits of the other senior committee members who would compete to succeed McCaul if he isn’t granted the waiver, but she said the committee has a strong bench.

The three other GOP contenders come from the internationalist wing of the party, so there would likely be no major foreign policy breaks from the hawkish trajectory that McCaul has steered. They and McCaul all voted for the bundled national security supplemental spending legislation supporting Ukraine, Israel and allies in the Indo-Pacific that the House passed in April.

“We confront global threats from enemies such as Russia, China, and Iran,” Wagner said in a statement citing her experience, including as ambassador to Luxembourg during the George W. Bush administration. “I will be speaking to my colleagues over the next several months to make my case to the Steering Committee and Republican Majority members.”

Other than McCaul, Issa is the only candidate to have led a full House panel. From 2011 to 2014, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he led investigations into the Obama administration, which he used to become of the best-known names on Capitol Hill for a while. He steered the 2012 probe into the Justice Department’s botched gun-tracking program known as Operation Fast and Furious and questioned Hillary Clinton about her use of a personal email account to conduct official business when she was secretary of State from 2009 to 2013. 

“If you’re looking to find out what kind of chairman Darrell Issa will be, you can look at what kind of successful chairman he was at Oversight. He was a transformative chairman on that committee because he directed its resources and its mission to serve all of the members,” a spokesman for Issa said. “He knows that all members have a contribution that they can make and are the critical difference in making a committee as successful as it can be, because he did it before.”