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Blinken to appear before Foreign Affairs Committee

Blinken to appear before Foreign Affairs Committee
© AFP/Pool

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenLawmakers want Biden to pressure Saudi Arabia to end Yemen blockade Biden sparks bipartisan backlash on Afghanistan withdrawal  Kerry to visit China ahead of White House climate summit MORE will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday to discuss the Biden administration’s priorities for U.S. foreign policy, his first hearing in front of lawmakers more than a month after he was confirmed as America’s top diplomat.

House aides said the secretary is expected to face questions on “every topic under the sun,” including U.S. policy toward China, Iran and Russia and strategies for ending the war in Afghanistan.

Other pressing topics are the Biden administration’s commitment to engaging with U.S. allies and recommitting to multilateral institutions in efforts to eliminate COVID-19 and reverse the effects of climate change.

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“Secretary Blinken finds himself facing significant national security challenges that Congress will no doubt be considering as it plays its oversight role,” said Toby Dershowitz, senior vice president for government relations at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

The secretary’s appearance comes after he promised to work more closely with Congress on foreign policy than his predecessor, Mike PompeoMike PompeoBiden faces day of reckoning on China and Taiwan Nikki Haley says if Trump runs for president in 2024 then she won't Blinken: China 'didn't do what it needed to do' in early stages of pandemic MORE.

The secretary will face a separate, closed hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday.

Blinken, during his confirmation hearing, said both he and the president believe in restoring “Congress’s traditional role as a partner in our foreign policy making.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is considered one of the panels most successful at achieving bipartisan consensus. But divides between Republicans and Democrats — and among progressive and moderate Democrats — are likely to play out.

“Based on conversations I’ve had with staffers and lawmakers on the Democratic side, there is obviously a strong desire to be supportive, but at the same time clear signs that some of their expectations are not met and that there’s some confusion as to the administration’s strategy and priorities,” said Trita Parsi, executive vice president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.

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The Middle East is likely to be a large focus, as the Biden administration has already taken a number of steps relating to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran that have elicited strong reactions from Congress.

“From the progressive standpoint, they’re pleased to see quick movement on Yemen,” Parsi said, referring to the president’s end of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive in Yemen’s civil war, but have questions over the specifics of halting weapons sales.

“They’re not entirely clear what offensive weapons ultimately means. That’s the critical word there,” he added.

Democrats have also pushed back on the Biden administration for failing to notify Congress before carrying out airstrikes last month against Iranian installations in Syria in retaliation for an Iranian-backed missile attack on Iraqi and Kurdish bases housing U.S. forces and contractors.

On Iran, Democrats have signaled unity behind Biden’s push to reenter the Obama-era nuclear deal that former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden to move ahead with billion UAE weapons sale approved by Trump Fox News hires high-profile defense team in Dominion defamation lawsuit Associate indicted in Gaetz scandal cooperating with DOJ: report MORE withdrew from in 2018.

But Republican and Democratic lawmakers in a signed letter made a stand together in calling for the administration to address at the outset of conversations with Tehran its nuclear and ballistic missile program and funding for terrorism.

“Since the administration has prioritized Iran policy, both sides of the aisle may press the secretary on how the U.S. will address Iran’s stance that the U.S. give up important leverage it has — multilayered sanctions — before Iran comes into compliance with the nuclear deal,” said Dershowitz.

"Some in Congress will want assurances that the U.S. maintain sanctions on Iran’s revolutionary guards and those entities designated under terrorism sanctions, regardless of how the nuclear deal unfolds, since Iran’s malign activities, including the financing of terrorism, have not ceased," she added.

On Tuesday, Blinken announced sanctions on two members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for human rights violations, the first sanctions directed towards Iran under the Biden administration.

The former Trump administration designated the IRGC a terrorist organization in 2019 and then carried out an airstrike killing its top commander, Qasem Soleimani, in Iraq in January 2020.

How the administration approaches Beijing is also likely to be a heated topic, with GOP lawmakers having earlier signaled U.S. policy toward China as a key election issue. They have been critical of any efforts by Democrats or the administration that they view as soft on Beijing.

Blinken, in a speech at the State Department this month, called China the biggest geopolitical challenge of the century and said the administration is prepared to confront and compete with Beijing but will cooperate on areas that serve American national security interests.

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Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described Blinken as a skilled witness who “sailed” through his confirmation hearing with the Senate.

“There’s not a question he can’t answer or punt on,” he said.

Another top issue for Democrats is likely how the State Department is addressing efforts to increase diversity at the agency, with multiple members expected to question the secretary about what is being done at to increase representation for women and people of color and his recent move to appoint a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer.

It’s a prescient issue. Rep. Gregory MeeksGregory Weldon MeeksLawmakers want Biden to pressure Saudi Arabia to end Yemen blockade Iran talks set up delicate dance for Biden team House panel advances bill to repeal 2002 war authorization MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is the first African American to lead the panel, his election to the chair taking place in the wake of the national reckoning with racial equity last year.

Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroDemocrats ask Biden to reverse employee policy on past marijuana use The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's next act: Massive infrastructure plan with tax hikes Blinken to appear before Foreign Affairs Committee MORE (D-Texas) told The Hill that diversity will be a top issue.

“My immediate foreign policy priority is rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure for diplomacy, particularly the U.S. State Department,” Castro wrote in an email. “I’ve been encouraged by Secretary Blinken’s commitment to a diplomatic corps that looks like America and his creation of a Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, and Congress needs to ensure the administration follows through on these commitments.”