Rep. Royce gets endorsement for top spot on Foreign Affairs panel

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) looked set to easily win selection to head the House Foreign Affairs panel after its chairwoman officially endorsed him Wednesday.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who is stepping down as chairwoman due to term limits, called Royce “a proven leader who has provided valuable input during critical debates of our Committee” in a letter to the House Republican Steering Committee. “Ed would make an excellent Chairman and I strongly support his candidacy to lead the Committee in the next Congress.”

Royce was first elected in 1993 and has served as chairman or ranking member of the panel's subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade for the past eight years. He officially threw his hat into the ring on Wednesday.

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“Foreign policy didn't decide this presidential election, but it critically impacts our national security,” he said in a statement. “If selected as chairman, I will work against the Administration's most harmful foreign policies, and exercise strong oversight over the State Department and other agencies. The Administration's behavior in the Benghazi incident still demands a credible accounting.”

Royce went on to call Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program the “gravest threat facing the U.S. and our allies.”

Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), the chairman of the subpanel on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, also threw his hat in the ring Wednesday. He has served on the panel for more than three decades - he was first elected in 1980 - and is a leading voice on human rights.

"I have spoken to many people on the Steering Committee and am encouraged by their feedback," he told The Hill in an e-mailed statement. "I look forward to the race and the awesome opportunity to discuss my experience, passion, and vision for the committee — and the technical nuts and bolts of consistent, effective oversight. The chairman is a voice, eyes and ears for the conference and I am ready and eager to successfully communicate our foreign policy priorities."

This post was updated at 3:45 p.m. with comment from Rep. Smith