House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel is planning to dissolve the panel’s terrorism subcommittee and instead create a panel to focus on investigating matters related to President Trump -- a move prompting criticism from Republicans.
Engel, a New York Democrat who just took over as committee chairman, first floated the idea in December, eyeing an investigative subcommittee to replace the terrorism panel that was launched after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. He has since confirmed the plans in an interview with The New Yorker.
“We just thought, if we’re going to do something relevant in this era where Congress is going to reassert itself, where there are so many questionable activities of this Administration vis-à-vis foreign policy, that it made sense to have this,” Engel told The New Yorker in a sit-down interview this week.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, blasted the proposal.
“The government is shut down, our border remains vulnerable, and instead of negotiating, Democrats want to establish another committee to investigate President Trump,” Meadows said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. “We’re barely a week into the Democrat majority and already we’re seeing a disturbing, myopic focus on targeting the President rather than solutions to help American families.”
He added: “It seems the President keeps his focus on defeating ISIS while Democrats keep their focus on defeating Donald Trump.”
Fellow New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican who also serves on the committee, called the decision "very disappointing."
"The effort by House Democrats to obstruct, resist, impeach and oppose everything and anything is not in the best interest of our country," Zeldin said in a statement to Fox News on Friday. "Congress has important oversight powers and they must be used judiciously. Dissolving a committee entirely focused on fighting terrorism, pursuing nuclear non-proliferation, and improving trade policy couldn't possibly make any less sense to me."
He added: "We are one nation, not two nations, and today's anti-President hate is raging dangerously away from what is best for our country."
But Engel said the broader committee will continue to deal with terrorism in other ways.
“I’ve been clear that oversight will be a priority of mine as Chairman, and part of that is reestablishing an Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, which existed for much of the last 20 years. Of course the Committee will still deal with the threat of terrorism. In fact, we’re expanding the jurisdiction of our subcommittees for different parts of the world to include terrorism so they’re better able to grapple with this problem with a regional focus,” Engel said.
The Democratic chairman, who has been in Congress for nearly three decades representing areas of the Bronx and Westchester County, said that there “wasn’t a great clamor” from lawmakers to keep the terrorism panel, formally called the Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade subcommittee. Some of those responsibilities are expected to be redistributed to other subcommittees.
Engel pointed to the need for more Trump scrutiny, for instance pertaining to Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland last summer.
“It’s been many months since Helskini, and we still don’t know what Putin and Trump talked about,” he said, adding that a new panel could also look at “the business interests of the president” and how his financial dealings with certain countries in the Middle East and Russia have “affected what he’s done in foreign policy.”
Yet such a panel would be far from the only one scrutinizing the president. Investigations and hearings already are being pursued on other Democratic-led House committees.
This week, House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., announced that he had invited Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen to testify publicly before the panel next month. Cohen accepted, and said he was looking forward to “having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”
A federal judge last month sentenced Cohen to three years in prison, following a dramatic hearing at which Cohen said he felt it was his duty to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds.” In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to breaking campaign-finance laws by helping orchestrate payments to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels, who claimed they had sexual encounters with Trump while he was married.
Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is also investigating the president, after the panel, formerly led by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., probed allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election as well as the law enforcement and intelligence community's handling.
Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.