United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

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"Committee on Foreign Relations" redirects here. It is not to be confused with Council on Foreign Relations.
United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.jpg

The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is a standing committee of the United States Senate. It is charged with leading foreign-policy legislation and debate in the Senate. The Foreign Relations Committee is generally responsible for overseeing (but not administering) and funding foreign aid programs as well as funding arms sales and training for national allies. The committee is also responsible for holding confirmation hearings for high-level positions in the Department of State. The committee has considered, debated, and reported important treaties and legislation, ranging from the purchase of Alaska in 1867 to the establishment of the United Nations in 1945. It also holds jurisdiction over all diplomatic nominations.[1] Along with the Finance and Judiciary Committees, the Foreign Relations Committee is one of the oldest in the Senate, going back to the initial creation of committees in 1816. Its sister committee in the House of Representatives is the Committee on Foreign Affairs (renamed from International Relations by the 110th Congress in January 2007).


In 1887-1907 Alabama Democrat John Tyler Morgan played a leading role on the Committee. Morgan called for a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Nicaragua, enlarging the merchant marine and the Navy, and acquiring Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Cuba. He expected Latin American and Asian markets would become a new export market for Alabama's cotton, coal, iron, and timber. The canal would make trade with the Pacific much more feasible, and an enlarged military would protect that new trade. By 1905, most of his dreams had become reality, with of course the canal going to Panama instead of Nicaragua.[2]

During World War II, the committee took the lead in rejecting traditional isolationism and designing a new internationalist foreign policy based on the assumption that the United Nations would be a much more effective force than the old discredited League of Nations. Of special concern was the insistence that Congress play a central role in postwar foreign policy, as opposed to its ignorance of the main decisions made during the war.[3] Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg played the central role.In 1943, a confidential analysis of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was made by British scholar Isaiah Berlin for the Foreign Office.[4] [5]

In 1966, as tensions over the Vietnam War escalated, the Committee set up hearings on possible relations with Communist China. Witnesses, especially academic specialists on East Asia, suggested to the American public that it was time to adopt a new policy of containment without isolation. The hearings Indicated that American public opinion toward China had moved away from hostility and toward cooperation. The hearings had a long-term impact when Richard Nixon became president, discarded containment, and began a policy of détente with China.[6] The problem remained of how to deal simultaneously with the Chinese government on Taiwan after formal recognition was accorded to the Beijing government. The Committee drafted the Taiwan Relations Act (US, 1979) which enabled the United States both to maintain friendly relations with Taiwan and to develop fresh relations with China.[7]

In response to conservative criticism that the state department lacked hardliners, President Ronald Reagan in 1981 nominated Ernest W. Lefever as Assistant Secretary of State. Lefever performed poorly at his confirmation hearings and the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations rejected his nomination by vote of 4-13, prompting Lefever to withdraw his name.[8] Elliot Abrams filled the position.

Republican Senator Jesse Helms, a staunch conservative, was Committee chairman in the late 1990s. He pushed for reform of the UN by blocking payment of U.S. membership dues.[9]

Members, 114th Congress[edit]

Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew defending the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at a committee hearing, July 23, 2015
Majority Minority

Sources: 2015 Congressional Record, Vol. 161, Page S297 –297, 661–662


Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism Jim Risch (R-ID) Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women's Issues Marco Rubio (R-FL) Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Europe and Regional Security Cooperation Ron Johnson (R-WI) Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Africa and Global Health Policy Jeff Flake (R-AZ) Ed Markey (D-MA)
State Department and USAID Management, International Operations and Bilateral International Development Rand Paul (R-KY) Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
East Asia, The Pacific and International Cybersecurity Policy Cory Gardner (R-CO) Ben Cardin (D-MD)
International Development, Multilateral Institutions and International Economic, Energy and Environmental Policy John Barrasso (R-WY) Tom Udall (D-NM)

Historical members[edit]

Members, 113th Congress[edit]

Majority (Democrats) Minority (Republicans)

Sources: 2013 Congressional Record, Vol. 159, Page S297 –297, 661–662

Damien Murphy and another official from the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee inspecting burnt down printing press of Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna on December 7, 2013 while E. Saravanapavan, the Managing Director of the newspaper explaining something to him.
Subcommittee Chair Ranking Member
International Operations and Organizations, Human Rights, Democracy and Global Women's Issues Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Rand Paul (R-KY)
East Asian and Pacific Affairs Ben Cardin (D-MD) Marco Rubio (R-FL)
African Affairs Chris Coons (D-DE) Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
Western Hemisphere and Global Narcotics Affairs Tom Udall (D-NM) John McCain (R-AZ)
European Affairs Chris Murphy (D-CT) Ron Johnson (R-WI)
Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs Tim Kaine (D-VA) Jim Risch (R-ID)
International Development and Foreign Assistance, Economic Affairs and International Environmental Protection, and Peace Corps Tim Kaine (D-VA), until 2013
Ed Markey (D-MA), from 2013
John Barrasso (R-WY)

Chairmen (1816–present)[edit]

Chairman Party State Years
James Barbour Democratic Republican Virginia 1816–1818
Nathaniel Macon Democratic-Republican North Carolina 1818–1819
James Brown Democratic Republican Louisiana 1819–1820
James Barbour Democratic Republican Virginia 1820–1821
Rufus King Federalist New York 1821–1822
James Barbour Democratic Republican Virginia 1822–1825
Nathaniel Macon Democratic-Republican North Carolina 1825–1826
Nathan Sanford Democratic-Republican New York 1826–1827
Nathaniel Macon Democratic-Republican North Carolina 1827–1828
Littleton Tazewell Democratic Virginia 1828–1832
John Forsyth Democratic Georgia 1832–1833
William Wilkins Democratic Pennsylvania 1833–1834
Henry Clay Whig Kentucky 1834–1836
James Buchanan Democratic Pennsylvania 1836–1841
William C. Rives Whig Virginia 1841–1842
William S. Archer Whig Virginia 1842–1845
William Allen Democratic Ohio 1845–1846
Ambrose H. Sevier Democratic Arkansas 1846–1848
Edward A. Hannegan Democratic Indiana 1848–1849
Thomas Hart Benton Democratic Missouri 1849
William R. King Democratic Alabama 1849–1850
Henry S. Foote Democratic Mississippi 1850–1851
James M. Mason Democratic Virginia 1851–1861
Charles Sumner Republican Massachusetts 1861–1871
Simon Cameron Republican Pennsylvania 1871–1877
Hannibal Hamlin Republican Maine 1877–1879
William W. Eaton Democratic Connecticut 1879–1881
Ambrose Burnside Republican Rhode Island 1881
George F. Edmunds Republican Vermont 1881
William Windom Republican Minnesota 1881–1883
John F. Miller Republican California 1883–1886
John Sherman Republican Ohio 1886–1893
John T. Morgan Democratic Alabama 1893–1895
John Sherman Republican Ohio 1895–1897
William P. Frye Republican Maine 1897
Cushman Davis Republican Minnesota 1897–1901
Shelby M. Cullom Republican Illinois 1901–1911
Augustus O. Bacon Democratic Georgia 1913–1914
William J. Stone Democratic Missouri 1914–1918
Gilbert M. Hitchcock Democratic Nebraska 1918–1919
Henry Cabot Lodge Republican Massachusetts 1919–1924
William E. Borah Republican Idaho 1924–1933
Key Pittman Democratic Nevada 1933–1940
Walter F. George Democratic Georgia 1940–1941
Tom Connally Democratic Texas 1941–1947
Arthur H. Vandenberg Republican Michigan 1947–1949
Tom Connally Democratic Texas 1949–1953
Alexander Wiley Republican Wisconsin 1953–1955
Walter F. George Democratic Georgia 1955–1957
Theodore F. Green Democratic Rhode Island 1957–1959
J. William Fulbright Democratic Arkansas 1959–1975
John J. Sparkman Democratic Alabama 1975–1979
Frank Church Democratic Idaho 1979–1981
Charles H. Percy Republican Illinois 1981–1985
Richard Lugar Republican Indiana 1985–1987
Claiborne Pell Democratic Rhode Island 1987–1995
Jesse Helms Republican North Carolina 1995–2001
Joe Biden Democratic Delaware 2001
Jesse Helms Republican North Carolina 2001
Joe Biden Democratic Delaware 2001–2003
Richard Lugar Republican Indiana 2003–2007
Joe Biden Democratic Delaware 2007–2009
John Kerry Democratic Massachusetts 2009–2013
Bob Menendez Democratic New Jersey 2013–2015
Bob Corker Republican Tennessee 2015–present


  1. ^ History of the Committee
  2. ^ Joseph A. Fry, "John Tyler Morgan's Southern Expansionism," Diplomatic History (1985) 9#4 pp: 329-346.
  3. ^ Roland Young, Congressional Politics in the Second World War (1958), pp 168–96
  4. ^ Hachey, Thomas E. (Winter 1973–1974). "American Profiles on Capitol Hill: A Confidential Study for the British Foreign Office in 1943" (PDF). Wisconsin Magazine of History 57 (2): 141–153. JSTOR 4634869. 
  5. ^ James A. Gazell, "Arthur H. Vandenberg, Internationalism, and the United Nations." Political Science Quarterly (1973) pp: 375-394. in JSTOR
  6. ^ Katherine Klinefelter, "The China Hearings: America's Shifting Paradigm on China," Congress & the Presidency (2011) 38#1 pp: 60-76.
  7. ^ Jacob K. Javits, "Congress And Foreign Relations: The Taiwan Relations Act," Foreign Affairs (1981) 60#1 pp 54-62
  8. ^ Robert David Johnson (2005). Congress and the Cold War. Cambridge UO. pp. 253–54. 
  9. ^ William A. Link, Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (2008)
  10. ^ Sen. Menendez voluntarily stepped down as Ranking Member on 1 April 2015 after being indicted by the Justice Department. Menendez Gives Up Foreign Relations Post

Further reading[edit]

  • Carter, Ralph G. and James Scott, eds. Choosing to Lead : Understanding Congressional Foreign Policy Entrepreneurs (Duke University Press, 2009)
  • Crabb, Cecil Van Meter, and Pat M. Holt. Invitation to struggle: Congress, the president, and foreign policy (CQ Press, 1992)
  • Dahl, Robert A. Congress and Foreign Policy (1950)
  • Farnsworth, David Nelson. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations (University of Illinois Press, 1961), a topical survey of the Committee's activity from 1947 to 1956.
  • Frye, Alton. "'Gobble'uns' and foreign policy: a review," Journal of Conflict Resolution (1964) 8#3 pp: 314-321. Historiographical review of major books
  • Gagnon, Frédérick. "Dynamic Men: Vandenberg, Fulbright, Helms and the Activity of the Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Since 1945." online (2013)
  • Gazell, James A. "Arthur H. Vandenberg, Internationalism, and the United Nations." Political Science Quarterly (1973): 375-394. in JSTOR
  • Gould, Lewis. The Most Exclusive Club : A History of the Modern United States Senate (2006)
  • Hewes, James E. Jr. "Henry Cabot Lodge and the League of Nations". Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1970) 114#4 pp: 245–255.
  • Hitchens, Harold L., "Influences of the Congressional Decision to Pass the Marshall Plan" Western Political Science Quarterly (1968) 21#1 pp: 51-68. in JSTOR
  • Jewell, Malcolm E. Senatorial Politics and Foreign Policy (U. of Kentucky Press, 1962)
  • Kaplan, Lawrence S. The Conversion of Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg: From Isolation to International Engagement (University Press of Kentucky, 2015)
  • Link, William A. Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (2008)
  • McCormick, James M. "Decision making in the foreign affairs and foreign relations committees." in Randall B. Ripley and James M. Lindsay, eds.. Congress resurgent: foreign and defense policy on Capitol Hill (University of Michigan press, 1993) pp: 115-153
  • Maguire, Lori. "The US Congress and the politics of Afghanistan: an analysis of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees during George W Bush's second term." Cambridge Review of International Affairs (2013) 26#2 pp: 430-452.
  • Shaw, John T. (2012). Richard G. Lugar, Statesman of the Senate: Crafting Foreign Policy from Capitol Hill. Indiana UP. p. 73. 
  • Robinson, James A. Congress and Foreign Policy-Making (1962), statistical study of roll calls emphasizing the importance of the Committee
  • Spanier, John, and Joseph Nogee, eds. Congress, the Presidency and American Foreign Policy (Elsevier, 2013)
  • Warburg, Gerald Felix. Conflict and consensus: The struggle between Congress and the president over foreign policymaking (HarperCollins Publishers, 1989)
  • Woods, Randall Bennett. Fulbright : A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 1995)
  • Young, Roland. Congressional Politics in the Second World War (1958), pp 168–96

Primary sources[edit]

  • Vandenberg, Arthur Hendrick, and Joe Alex Morris, eds. The private papers of Senator Vandenberg. (1952)

External links[edit]