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As Senate committee assignments were being handed out last week, Kansas Republican Sam Brownback thought he was well placed to win the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
A conservative who supports the president’s efforts to win public support for disarming Iraq and liberating the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, Brownback was the ranking minority member of the subcommittee when the Democrats were in control.
He has focused on regional issues since first coming to the Senate in 1996.
His former staffer, Christina Rocca, became assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs in May 2001.
Last Thursday, Brownback thought the deal was in the bag when Rhode Island Republican Lincoln Chaffee stepped forward and asked Committee Chairman Dick Lugar, R-Ind., for the job.
Chaffee never had expressed an interest in the Middle East except once last October, when he was the only Republican to vote against the War Powers Resolution authorizing the president to use military force against Iraq. (Just 22 Democrats agreed with Chaffee.)
So what would an antiwar Republican be doing at the head of the Senate subcommittee that would be in charge of overseeing the war and the State Department’s handling (or mishandling) of opponents of Saddam Hussein?
“This is a committee that runs by seniority, and Chaffee has seniority over Brownback,” a lobbyist who closely follows the committee told Insight.
“Until Thursday, Chaffee was saying he wanted the Latin America subcommittee [subcommitee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics Affairs].
“With Lugar, [Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck] Hagel and Chaffee in charge, it’s going to be like having this committee run by Germany and France,” the lobbyist said.
What is Chaffee’s agenda?
Senate insiders believe he intends to prevent oversight hearings of the State Department’s Near East/South Asia bureau, which was accused in two Office of Inspector General reports this fall of grossly mismanaging grants to the Iraqi opposition.
Insight has learned that President Bush personally has expressed anger at the State Department’s refusal to fund the Iraqi opposition.
“This is a time for common sense, not seniority,” a senior Republican Senate aide told Insight. “We shouldn’t have a chairman who voted against the use of force running the Senate subcommittee that oversees Iraq.”
Chaffee Chief of Staff David Griswald confirmed to Insight that the senator “has expressed an interest” in the subcommittee chairmanship, but said there was “no connection” between Chaffee’s vote against the War Powers Resolution and the committee job.
“This is a huge region with many interesting challenges,” Griswald said. Chaffee believes the region “presents an opportunity.”
Committee Chairman Lugar has scheduled an organizational meeting to finalize subcommittee assignments.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.