Top Dem's defeat portends intra-party fight on foreign affairs panel

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Faleomavaega's bid is already gaining traction behind the scenes from members who have long clamored for more diversity in the Democratic leadership. He's also seen as potentially less hawkish on Iran than Sherman and Engel.

“It would be great to see some diversity in the Foreign Affairs Committee's Democratic leadership,” a Democratic House staffer told The Hill in an implicit endorsement of Faleomavaega. “Someone who can talk to Asia given our recent pivot, as well as someone who isn't inclined to wage new wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Serving on leadership of the Foreign Affairs Committee requires that cooler heads prevail. On that front alone, the choice may be self-evident.”

Faleomavaega however has raised eyebrows for his support of Bahrain's anti-Iranian monarchy, which has been criticized for squashing political dissidents. Bahrain is being represented by a Washington, D.C., lobbying firm run by a longtime Faleomavaega friend and campaign contributor, ProPublica reported earlier this year.

The leadership race comes at a time of large turnover among Democrats on the committee. Out of 20 members at the beginning of the 112th Congress, only 13 will remain in the next Congress: the second-highest ranking member behind Berman, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), is retiring this year, and the next in line after Faleomavaega, Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.), died unexpectedly this year.

Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) resigned in August, two members – Reps. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) and Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) -- lost reelection, and Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) won his bid for retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman's Senate seat.