January 10, 2007
Rep. Berman in line to chair House foreign affairs panel
Now the veteran legislator will be in an even stronger position to pursue his agenda as the likely future chairman of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Berman (D-Van Nuys), who represents the heavily Jewish and Latino East San Fernando Valley, is in line to succeed Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo) in the post, after the Northern Californian announced that he would not run for reelection because he has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
Berman joined leaders of both parties in praising the 79-year-old Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor on Capitol Hill, who as a 16-year-old fought the Nazi takeover of his native Hungary. Lantos, said Berman, "is a unique voice in foreign affairs" and "unequaled in his historical perspective."
During a visit to his home district last week, Berman was more hesitant in talking about his chances of succeeding Lantos in the chairmanship when the new Congress convenes in January 2009, assuming that the Democrats retain control of the House of Representatives.
However, Berman, 66, is the most senior member of the committee next to Lantos, and unless the speaker of the House or the Democratic Caucus expresses strong opposition, Congress customarily follows the seniority rule. If so, Berman can be counted on to be as strong a voice for Israel and human rights as his predecessor, judging by the record, as well as a skilled coalition builder.
During his first eight years in Congress, "I fought against the American tilt toward Saddam Hussein, and later, I voted for using military force against Iraq in 1991 and 2002," Berman told The Journal.
His 2002 vote was based on his belief in the administration's assertion that Iraq was developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons of mass destruction.
"That was my fault," Berman acknowledged, and he has since developed "a tremendous hostility toward the Bush-Rumsfeld policy."
Two years ago, he successfully introduced a bill setting benchmarks to be achieved by the Iraqi government, but he is against mandating hard-and-fast deadlines for a withdrawal of American troops. On Iran, Berman advocates using increased multinational pressure and sanctions to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Currently, Berman also exerts considerable influence as vice chair of the Judiciary Committee and as chair of its subcommittee on federal courts, the Internet and intellectual property.
During Berman's earlier years as the youngest speaker of the California Assembly, he was half of the muscular "Berman-Waxman machine," which has played a key role in the liberal politics of the Los Angeles Westside ever since.
His partner is neighboring Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the principal investigative arm of the House.
If Berman becomes head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the two old friends and partners will chair two of the most powerful congressional committees.
Back home, Berman and his wife, Janis Gail, are members of Adat Ari El, a Conservative congregation in Valley Village. They have two daughters and two grandchildren.
The congressman has worked closely with the Israel Policy Forum, American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League.
"My religion and Zionism are very important to me," he said.