The Candidates And Foreign Policy

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump may not see Congress as a threat to his foreign policy agenda, even as Democrats prepare to take control of the House of Representatives after the midterm elections Nov. 6.

But Rep. Eliot Engel, a mild-mannered Democrat from the Bronx, is drawing up an aggressive oversight plan for January, when he is likely to take the gavel of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

First on his priority list: getting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at his witness table after Trump's chief diplomat "snubbed" the panel this year. Next up: a wide-ranging examination of Trump's ties to Russia and an investigation into how the president's business interests have intersected with his foreign policy decisions, among other matters.

The Trump administration has shown that it will "do the minimum possible to interact with Congress' and that it sees the State Department "as the enemy,' Engel told USA TODAY in an interview previewing his plans for next year. "I'm not going to accept that.'

The president's defense of Saudi Arabia may come under particularly quick and close scrutiny in the wake of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Post reported that the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered Khashoggi's killing. Trump emphasized the crown prince's denials and questioned the CIA's assessment.

Engel blasted Trump for casting doubt on the CIA's assessment in the Khashoggi case and said it was reminiscent of his friendly stance toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite the U.S. intelligence community's conclusions that the Kremlin orchestrated a campaign to sway the 2016 U.S. presidential race.

"We saw him do it with Putin, and now he wants to downplay a horrific murder," Engel said in a statement last week after Trump said he would work to preserve the U.S.-Saudi alliance. "We need answers about why the administration has behaved the way it has in the wake of this incident."

The Trump administration has made Saudi Arabia a linchpin of its foreign policy - relying on the kingdom to keep oil prices low as the United States ratchets up sanctions on Iran and hoping to win Saudi support for its Middle East peace plan. Engel is a staunch supporter of Israel, and he shares the administration's views that Iran presents a threat to Middle East stability.

But the New York Democrat said he wants to make sure the Saudis realize they don't have a "blank check" from the United States to commit human rights abuses.

It's not clear how cooperative the Trump administration will be as it faces the new Democratic House majority. Robert Palladino, the State Department's deputy spokesman, said Pompeo has "great respect" for Congress' oversight role, noting

that he served in the House as a three-term representative from Kansas.

"As a former member, Secretary Pompeo has always made sure that he provides the information Congress deserves," Palladino said. "Since assuming his responsibilities as secretary of state, we have been transparent and have met our obligations. We will continue to do so.'

A week after Democrats' election victory, Pompeo paid Engel a visit on Capitol Hill, a move the congressman took as a positive sign. Trump and Engel have not had many interactions, despite their shared connection to New York.

The president has wide latitude to execute U.S. foreign policy. Congress can play a powerful role by convening high-profile hearings and conducting investigations. Perhaps more importantly, lawmakers can use their funding powers to force policy changes - whether that means pumping up U.S. foreign assistance for allies or defunding U.S. military support to Saudi Arabia in its Yemen bombing campaign.

Aside from enacting a new Russia sanctions law, the Republican-controlled Congress has not significantly challenged Trump's approach to U.S. foreign policy - offering limited pushback as the president launched a trade war with China, threatened to unravel longtime U.S. alliances and embraced dictators from North Korea to Russia.

Come January, that could change under the Democrats.

"For the first time, we're likely to see robust hearings, briefings, requests for information and, if necessary, even subpoenas on a wide variety of issues,' said Michael Fuchs, a former State Department official in the Obama administration and a foreign policy expert at the liberal Center for American Progress.

"At the very least,' Fuchs said, "that will mean more information is being pushed out into public.'

One prime example: Congress requested briefings on the Trump administration's negotiations with North Korea but received little to no information on what, if any, progress has been made in persuading its leader,

Kim Jong Un, to relinquish his nuclear arsenal.

Senior lawmakers demanded details of what Trump and Putin discussed during their controversial closed-door meeting in July in Helsinki. They want an assessment of Saudi Arabia's role in the murder of Khashoggi.

"I'm going to ask for briefings on lots of things,' Engel said.

"My goal is not to embarrass the president,' he said. Rather, he said, it's to make sure that Congress is treated as a co-equal branch of government and is given a voice on foreign policy.

Many of the issues Engel wants to look into could put the president on the spot. The prospective committee chairman said he would like to examine whether Trump's business income from his marquee hotels and his other holdings violates anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution. Those provisions bar the president and other U.S. government officials from accepting payments from foreign governments.

"That's natural for us to look into,' Engel said.

He promised to be evenhanded in his oversight, as long as the State Department and the White House cooperate with the committee's requests for testimony and documents. He said he's ready to use all his leverage if not.

"I'm going to fight tooth and nail to make sure we're part of the process, we're respected and that our input is taken seriously,' he said.

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Source : http://www.cbs8.com/story/39538349/trumps-foreign-policy-agenda-faces-a-gauntlet-of-house-democrats-led-by-new-yorks-eliot-engel

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