Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Chair: Jim Risch

F

Projected Grade for the 116th Congress*

* Adjustments have been applied so that committees' grades are not lowered by the constraints on hearings caused by Covid-19 [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org/covid-19-statement]

0 Investigative Oversight Hearings

36 Policy/Legislative Hearings

72 Total Hearings

Last updated: Aug. 5, 2020, 12:33 p.m.

One of the Senate’s 10 original committees, the committee has jurisdiction over the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and other foreign aid agencies, with oversight responsibilities for the United Nations, the World Bank and the other multi-lateral development banks. Historically one of its most important functions has been to vote on international treaties, which under the Constitution must be ratified by two-thirds of the Senate. It also must approve the nominations of all U.S. ambassadors, each of whom gets a hearing (either individually or shared with other nominees), many perfunctory, some quite contentious, giving the committee Congress’s busiest nomination schedule. With no money to dole out to Senators’ states and a modest legislative agenda, committee chairs have often regarded hearings as their main source of influence. The committee has seven subcommittees: Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues; Europe and Regional Security Cooperation; East Asia, The Pacific, and International Cybersecurity Policy; Near East, South Asia, Central Asia, and Counterterrorism; Africa and Global Health Policy; State Department and USAID Management, International Operations, and Bilateral International Development; Multilateral International Development, Multilateral Institutions, and International Economic, Energy, and Environmental Policy.

In part because of its heavy nomination load, the committee has one of the largest hearing schedules in the Senate. The committee was most active immediately after President Obama’s election (the 111th Congress 2009-10) and after the Republicans re-assumed Senate control after the 2014 election (the 114th Congress 2015-16), with 167 and 169 hearings respectively. In the 115th Congress (2017-2018) under Chair Bob Corker (R, Tenn.) the committee held 156 hearings, about average for the period, and the most in the Senate that Congress.

Policy review oversight comprises much of the committee’s non-nomination hearing schedule. (Nominations for ambassadors to important posts may often involve policy reviews. Because it passes little legislation, the committee holds only a handful of legislative oversight hearings each Congress.) It usually has a full schedule of such policy and legislative oversight hearings, comparable to other important committees. But in the 115th Congress, the first two years of the Trump administration, the figure dropped sharply, to just 56 policy and legislative oversight hearings, from 114 during the previous Congress, also chaired by Sen. Corker. That’s the smallest number in the 10-year period, and lower than many major committees.

The committee performs little investigative oversight, averaging less than one such hearing each Congress over the period. It was one of six Senate committees that held no investigative oversight hearings in the 115th Congress.


Chairs

111th Congress: John Kerry (D-MA)

112th Congress: John Kerry (D-MA)

113th Congress: Bob Menendez (D-NJ)

114th Congress: Bob Corker (R-TN)

115th Congress: Bob Corker (R-TN)

116th Congress: Jim Risch R-ID)


Current Congress

We are 87% of the way through the 116th Congress

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

0 Investigative Oversight Hearings; 0% historical maximum
36 Policy/Legislative Hearings; 36% historical maximum
72 Total Hearings; 49% historical maximum

Committee History

Number of Hearings
Committee Hearing Performance
Investigative/Oversight Policy/Legislative Total Hearings Score Grade
111th Congress 0 60 167 71% C-
112th Congress 1 64 125 64% D
113th Congress 1 85 142 79% C+
114th Congress 1 114 169 100% A
115th Congress 0 56 156 66% D
116th Congress* 0 36 72 47% F
Historical average 0.5 69.2 138.5

* Adjustments have been applied so that committees' grades are not lowered by the constraints on hearings caused by Covid-19 [oversight-index.thelugarcenter.org/covid-19-statement]

Number of Hearings

--- Historical Average

Hearings held by the
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Date Hearing Title Committee Category