The 105th Congress Convenes

By McArthur, Shirl | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 31, 1997 | Go to article overview

The 105th Congress Convenes


McArthur, Shirl, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The 105th Congress Convenes

When Congress reconvened in early January, little significant work was scheduled before the Jan. 20 inauguration except for the new Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Jan. 8 hearing on the appointment of Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State. The hearing was every bit as saccharine as reported in the press, leaving no doubt that she would be confirmed easily.

Although foreign policy differences between the administration and Congress were glossed over during the hearing, it was apparent that these differences will not take long to surface. There is strong sentiment among Republicans on the committee to resurrect the proposal to dismantle certain foreign affairs agencies, including AID and the USIA, and fold their functions into the State Department. There also appears to be strong resistance within the committee against fulfilling the U.S. obligation to pay some $1.3 billion in U.S. debts to the U.N.

Another agency that appears to be endangered is the Department of Energy. President Bill Clinton's nomination of outgoing Transportation Secretary Federico Peña to be the new energy secretary has fueled speculation about Clinton's willingness to fight to save the department. Because Peña has no credentials in any of the areas under the Energy Department's jurisdiction, some people have speculated that he was chosen not only because he is Hispanic, but also for his administrative abilities, so that he could preside over the dismantling of the department.

Middle East issues do not appear to be high on the agenda of the 105th Congress. Although the Senate's subcommittees have not been formed as we go to press, by all indications the chairman of the Senate Middle East subcommittee is likely to be one of the three freshman Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee (see below).

AIPAC Pleased With Elections

AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr was justifiably pleased with the organization's efforts during the 1996 elections, pointing out that "AIPAC is the only grassroots organization that met with every new member of Congress." Furthermore, AIPAC managed, in one way or another, to get 90 percent of the new freshman class to issue statements supporting Israeli positions on one or more key issues.

All of the 15 new senators expressed support for continuing foreign aid to Israel at present levels, and 13 of the 15 specifically supported the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act. The other two, Republicans Sam Brownback of Kansas (replacing Bob Dole) and Gordon Smith of Oregon (replacing Mark Hatfield), issued statements supporting the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Both of these statements appear to be carefully worded, possibly indicating that Brownback and Smith might be prepared to maintain open minds on Middle East issues. Interestingly, both Brownback and Smith are among the new members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and one of them might well become the chairman of the Middle East subcommittee.

"AIPAC is the only grass-roots organization that met with every new member of Congress."

One of the new senators, Richard Durbin (D-IL), owes his political career to AIPAC, since he was the beneficiary of AIPAC's blitzkrieg to defeat Representative Paul Findley in 1982. By his actions and his votes in the House of Representatives, Durbin has shown that he fully understands his obligations to AIPAC and to Israel. He co-sponsored the Embassy Relocation Act, and during the campaign issued a statement saying that "the challenges to Israel's security...are also challenges to the security of the United States."

Members of the pro-Israel community have even met with the two new Arab-American members of Congress, Chris John (D-LA) and John Sununu Jr. (R-NH), and received expressions of support for the U.S.-Israeli relationship from both. John reportedly expressed his support for foreign aid for Israel and for the Iran-Libya Foreign Oil Sanctions Act. Sununu reportedly spoke in favor of the Embassy Relocation Act. …

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