WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a pro-Israel stalwart, is stepping down as chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Eliot Engel is set to become its senior Democrat.
Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) will be replaced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) because of Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.
"I have worked closely with Ed over the past years and I know he will be able to lead our Committee through the tough foreign policy challenges that face our country," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "His leadership and determination will help guide our country’s foreign policy in the right direction to better serve the interests of the American people."
Ros-Lehtinen has been one of Israel’s fiercest defenders in the House of Representatives, at times defying even Israel’s own leadership — for example in her insistence on cutting assistance to the Palestinian Authority.
She has scheduled a hearing Thursday on the Palestinians’ latest bid for enhanced United Nations status. The previous day she hosted a briefing with Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to Washington.
"U.S.-Israel security cooperation and assistance remains a critical component of our bilateral alliance especially as militants in Gaza repeatedly launched rocket attacks against Israel," she said at the briefing.
Engel (D-N.Y.), also one of the House’s most hawkish Israel advocates, will replace Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), who was defeated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) in an election pitting two Democrats.
Sherman and Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, the delegate from Samoa, also had bid for the top spot, but Sherman backed Engel last week and Faleomavaega dropped out Wednesday, leaving Engel as the only contender.
"I have full confidence that Eliot will do an outstanding job as Ranking Member and I am now asking the Caucus to unify around his candidacy," Faleomavaega said in a statement.