Should all go as expected today, and Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives and Democrats the Senate, New Jersey has a chance to pull off a rare double in the foreign affairs arena.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez has a good shot to be named chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Should he be named to the post, he would become the first senator from New Jersey ever to hold the powerful chairmanship.
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4) has a better than outside shot of taking over the chairmanship of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL-18) has reached the end of her committee chair term limit.
Should each man ascend to the chairmanship it would mark the first time in history that New Jersey controlled both houses’ foreign affairs committees.
In Smith’s way stands U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, (R-CA), who told The Hill earlier this year he plans to seek the chairmanship. Royce, who is serving his 10th term, trails Smith in seniority. Smith, the dean of the state delegation, is serving his 16th term in the House. He is 20th among all representatives in seniority, 9th among Republicans.
Royce is the current vice chairman of the committee and is regional vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, a potential key component of his bid for the chairmanship as he is active in aiding the GOP in keeping control of the House.
Smith, who generally wins re-election by double-digit margins, has never needed to raise gobs of money in his bids and so his money does not find its way into the coffers of Republicans in competitive districts.
From 2001 to 2005, Smith chaired the Veterans Affairs Committee, but was taken out by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay over Smith’s public demands for more funding for veterans’ groups.
Menendez’s advancement depends on the advancement of U.S. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a leading candidate to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who says whether President Obama wins or loses, she’s done in the office.
But Kerry’s advancement is not a foregone conclusion should Obama win, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice also is in the running for the post. But Rice has been at the center of the Benghazi controversy after she was the early voice laying blame for the embassy attacks on protesters angered over an anti-Muslim movie.
Menendez has good relations with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who ultimately decides committee chairmanships. “Reid has sent Bob on a number of missions, and been happy with the results,” said a source close to the New Jersey senator.
From recruiting for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, to convincing finance committee members to support the Affordable Care Act, to rousting floor votes for the Dream Act, Menendez has worked closely and well with Reid, said a second source.