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How a Democratic US House could alter foreign policy

President Donald Trump address Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]
President Donald Trump address Congress in Washington, US on 30 January 2018 [Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency]

Democrats will use their new majority in the US House of Representatives to reverse what they see as a hands-off approach by Republicans toward President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, and push for stricter dealings with Russia, Saudi Arabia and North Korea, Reuters reports.

Representative Eliot Engel, the Democrat in line to head the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said they might also seek congressional authorisation for the use of military force in places like Iraq and Syria. But on some hot-button areas, like China and Iran, he acknowledged there was little they could do to change the status quo.

As the majority party, Democrats will decide what legislation is considered in the House and have a more prominent role in setting spending policy and writing legislation.

“I don’t think we should challenge something just because it’s put forth by the administration, but I do think we have an obligation to review policies and do oversight,” Engel told Reuters in a telephone interview.

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Since they must still work with a Republican-controlled Senate to pass any bills, the Democratic majority’s most significant influence will be oversight, the ability to call hearings and, if necessary, subpoena witnesses, as they lead committees like Foreign Affairs as well as Armed Services and Intelligence.

Saudi relations

The furore over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul has added to lawmakers’ frustration with Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen and human rights.

A Democratic-led House could vote on legislation to block arms deals with Riyadh, make it difficult to win congressional approval of a nuclear energy deal and consider a measure to stop US aircraft refuelling and other support for the campaign in Yemen.

Read: Pompeo says ‘handful more weeks’ before US responds to Khashoggi killing

While Engel still views Saudi Arabia as a counterweight to Iran’s influence in the Middle East, he said Washington must demand more. “If the Saudis want our support, then they have to address some of the things that concern us,” he said.

Iran nuclear deal

Democrats were infuriated by Trump’s withdrawal from the international nuclear deal with Iran that Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration reached in 2015. But there is little they can do to change the policy as long as Republicans occupy the White House.

Lawmakers also are wary of seeming too friendly to Iran, especially given hostility to Tehran by the government of Israel. While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has worked increasingly closely with US Republicans, strong ties to Israel remain a top priority for both parties.

Engel was among Democrats who opposed the Iran deal, but he said Trump should work with important allies, like the members of the European Union, on that and other issues. “I think what we should do is try to repair the damage with our alliances that has been done,” he said.

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