Sen. Elizabeth Warren will become the newest Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee, adding military credentials to a legislative portfolio that has leaned heavily on domestic policy. | Getty
The potential presidential contenders nab committee assignments that will bolster their foreign policy chops.
Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, two rising stars in the party who are already talked about as presidential contenders in 2020, are taking committee assignments next year that will burnish their foreign policy credentials ahead of a potential national run.
Booker will join the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2017, giving the New Jersey Democrat a powerful perch on a panel that grapples with weighty matters such as authorizing war and leveling sanctions against foreign governments. The first-term senator will also have a front-row seat for the confirmation fight over Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state.
Warren will become the newest Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee, adding military credentials to a legislative portfolio heavy on domestic policy. That committee has a high-profile nomination fight as well: retired Gen. James Mattis, whom Trump will nominate to lead the Pentagon.
Booker said in a statement that the committee assignment “will enable me to keep fighting to strengthen America’s national security” while “serving as a check and balance on the new administration.”
Warren noted that three of her brothers served in the military, while Massachusetts is home to bases, defense companies and key research hubs that conduct military work.
Booker had also eyed a seat on the influential Judiciary Committee, according to Democratic sources — which would have positioned himself to battle over Trump’s future Supreme Court nominee, the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and issues such as criminal justice reform. That committee has a Democratic seat open as well, with incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York relinquishing his spot there, but the list of committee assignments Booker released Thursday does not include Judiciary.
Warren and Booker were on Hillary Clinton’s prospective VP list earlier this year. But both lacked the depth of foreign policy experience of Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who currently sits on both the armed services and foreign relations panels. Kaine was a leading voice in his party pushing for an authorization for the use of military force against the Islamic State.
Fellow Democrats noted Warren’s lack of experience in foreign policy during the vice-presidential chatter, with former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell arguing that the Massachusetts senator was “not in any way, shape or form ready to be commander-in-chief.”
Warren, pressed on Rendell’s critique during a June interview on MSNBC, said “Yes, I do” when asked whether she believed she was prepared to become president if necessary.
The assignments will give the senators access to regular classified briefings on foreign affairs that aren’t available to senators who don’t sit on the relevant committees. Booker will be front and center on major foreign policy matters such as U.S.-Russia relations, in light of intelligence assessments that found evidence of Russian interference in the Nov. 8 election, and the future of President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. Booker backed the deal despite heavy lobbying by anti-deal forces.
Warren will be in the middle of battles over military spending, oversight of the Pentagon and the debate over the National Defense Authorization Act, a sweeping defense policy measure that Congress tackles every year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is still negotiating with Schumer to determine how many seats each party will have on each panel, aides said Thursday. The complete list of committee assignments will likely be released before Christmas, though it could wait until the new Senate convenes in January.
One Democratic seat on the Foreign Relations Committee was open following the retirement of California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who held a senior seat on the panel. There are no obvious vacancies among Democrats on the Armed Services Committee, and aides declined to say Thursday which senator may be leaving the panel.
Another potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2020, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, sits on the Armed Services Committee, where she has carved a national profile battling sexual assaults in the military.
Booker is giving up his seat on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, but he’ll keep his three other existing assignments: Commerce, Environment and Public Works, and Small Business. Warren is leaving the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but she will remain on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, the Aging Committee and the Banking Committee.
Austin Wright contributed to this report.