Although Democrats no longer hold the majority in the House of Representatives, one Jewish lawmaker’s clout is rising. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is now the ranking member — the top Democrat — of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight.”
As a member of the “gang,” Schiff, along with the three other top members of the House and Senate intelligence committees as well as the Senate majority and minority leaders and the House speaker and minority leader, is privy to the country’s top secrets. By law, the president is required to keep these eight leaders in the loop and informed of all the country’s intelligence activities.
As ranking member of the committee on intelligence, Schiff, a Los Angeles-area resident, oversees the activities of the country’s intelligence community, including the work of the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, State and Energy. He had been a senior member of the committee and replaces Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) in the new role.
“I’m excited to have the responsibility, but I know I am going to have my hands full,” Schiff said. Overseeing large federal agencies is a challenge, but being involved in the country’s closed-door intelligence “is a daunting challenge in itself.” While Schiff is used to having his decisions scrutinized by “a vibrant press” and special interest groups, he now will be making decisions “without the benefit of a lot of public input or oversight.”
Having served in Congress since 2001, Schiff has set his priorities for his new role. “Right out of the gate, we want to make sure we are protecting the country” from terrorism, he said. “I would put at the very top of the list the immediate steps” necessary to make sure the recent murders and hostage-taking incidents in Paris do not occur in America.
Schiff also intends to focus the government on preventing cyber attacks, such as the recent one in which North Korea allegedly hacked Sony Pictures. In doing so, he vowed to maintain a balance between keeping Americans safe and respecting their privacy.
In his new position, Schiff will have a major voice on issues involving the Middle East. Although he has strong doubts about Iran’s willingness to end its nuclear weapons program, he wants to wait until the next deadline, in March, to see what results come from the current negotiations.
“I am skeptical the Iranians are prepared to take the steps needed” to end their nuclear program, he said. But at the same time, it is important that the United States “is not seen as scuttling the opportunity for peace.” Any agreement will have to verifiable, he stressed.
Schiff does not favor sending troops into Syria, frowning upon a return to America’s involvement in lengthy commitments similar to recent wars in Iran and Afghanistan.
He is a supporter of the two-state solution with Israel and the Palestinians. Following last summer’s war in Gaza and European anti-Semitism, Schiff wrote, “The truth remains, as it did before Gaza, that there must be two states for two people, living side-by-side in peace. A Palestinian state will not eradicate anti-Semitism, but it may suck away much of the oxygen that has enabled it to persist and grow in Europe.”
He has supported limiting funding to the Palestinian Authority in the past and is not averse to doing so again.
Concerning all these issues, Schiff said he would go against the Obama administration if he believed that doing so was best for the country and his constituents in California. “I am an independent agent,” he said. “I do my best to call it the way I see it.”
Suzanne Pollak is a senior writer at Washington Jewish Week. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.