Defeat of Engel Leaves Key Party Chair Post Open, Castro, Meeks are Interested

The Democratic primary loss of long-term incumbent Eliot Engel has left the key House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman position open.

Democrats expected to vie for the role include Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and possibly Brad Sherman (D-CA.)

NBC News reports a battle for control of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee is setting up a debate about race, seniority and the future of the Democratic Party.

The vacancy atop a powerful committee was made official on Friday when Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel officially lost the congressional seat representing a racially diverse district in New York after a surprise Democratic primary upset by progressive African-American Jamaal Bowman, a first-time candidate.

Racial identities and ideological divisions are likely to be front and center in the fight for control of the influential committee with a long history of being run by white men. And the debate over its future will come at a time when the nation is having a reckoning in the wake of protests after the death of Black American George Floyd, which renewed the debate about race and how discrimination has been enshrined in some institutions.

It took weeks for Bowman to be declared the winner, allowing for behind-the-scenes jockeying to begin. Half a dozen House aides, who requested anonymity to offer a frank assessment of the internal discussions, detailed to NBC News that several candidates are privately discussing seeking the chairmanship but avoided saying so in public out of respect for Engel while he waited for the official count.

The chairmanship will be decided after the November election, provided Democrats retain control of the chamber, when Congress is likely to be more diverse than it is now and include more women and minorities. A senior democratic aide tells NBC NEWS that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is expected to stay neutral. A spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee declined to comment.

Rep. Brad Sherman, D-CA, will now be the most senior member of the committee, a position that traditionally would have made him the favorite for the gavel. He’s expected to make public next week whether he intends to run, one congressional aide told NBC News.

The second most senior lawmaker on the panel, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-NY,is a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus. He became the first to declare his intent to run, releasing a statement on Friday saying, “more of the same is not an option.”

And Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-TX, lacking the seniority of the other two candidates, is also expected to vie for the chairmanship. Castro is head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the identical twin brother of Julian Castro, who gained an increased national profile when he ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president.

Castro wants to see the candidates debate.

“I do think it would benefit both the members of Congress and the American public if people who are running for committee chairs are willing to get out there in front of an audience and tell people what they believe, where they stand, and where they intend to take the committee,” he said. “I think that would be healthy for everybody. And I also think that that’s what Americans are clamoring for is accountability and transparency.”

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