If he becomes Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, bilateral ties would be in safe hands.
The contest for Chairmanship of the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) will likely be held in the coming weeks, if not days. Three candidates — Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) are vying to replace current Chairman Elliot Engel (D-NY), who lost his seat during the state’s primary early this year.
The congressional approach to India will likely not change under the new Congress, nor the new incoming presidential administration under Joe Biden. Ties with India, therefore, will not play a huge role in the race for the committee gavel. All three candidates can and should be expected to pursue strong foreign relations between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.
But Congressman Brad Sherman’s stalwart record of strengthening U.S.-India relations is notable. He has sought to champion bilateral ties from virtually the beginning of his congressional career in 1997 and proven to be a true friend of the relationship.
More than 15 years ago, Sherman was an early proponent of the historic U.S-India civilian nuclear deal at a time when the accord generated controversy and suspicion among members of his own party, particularly as a result of non-proliferation concerns. The deal was hailed as a breakthrough and transformed the strategic partnership between the two countries.
He currently serves as Co-Chair of the “House Caucus on India and Indian Americans” with Rep. George Holding (R-NC) and recently served as Chair of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, where has championed dozens of resolutions of bills over the years all aimed at bringing the United States and India closer together in all areas of cooperation.
READ: Congressman Brad Sherman condemns terrorist attacks in India (January 4, 2016)
Just a few weeks ago, Sherman was a lead sponsor of a resolution honoring Mahatma Gandhi and the enduring legacy of his life around the world, coinciding with the leader’s 151 birth anniversary.
Sherman also recently introduced the “Sherman Amendment” to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make India a “NATO plus five” country, putting it on par with nations like South Korea and Israel, and further boosting bilateral defense cooperation. “Our defense ties with India are growing. We conduct more joint exercises with India than any other country,” noted Sherman at a recent event.
Last year, Sherman also joined forces with Chairman Engel to lead efforts pushing back against President Donald Trump’s foolhardy offers to mediate the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan. U.S. policy from both the Executive and Legislative branches has rejected such an American mediation role for years, maintaining that the Kashmir dispute is a bilateral issue that must be resolved directly between the countries without any US intervention. President Trump broke with past policy and repeatedly offered to mediate the dispute, much to New Delhi’s chagrin.
Sherman and Engel sprang into action, apologizing directly to the Indian Ambassador to the United States for the huge faux pas. Sherman called Trump’s offer to mediate “amateurish,” “delusional,” and “embarrassing.” Trump never raised the mediation offers again after that.
Sherman also quickly came to India’s side this summer following a violent border clash between India and Chinese troops along the disputed border region between the two countries in August. The episode resulted in the deaths of over 20 Indian soldiers. Sherman issued the strongest statement issued by a U.S. official at the time, calling the Chinese aggression against Indian troops “premeditated” during a conversation with the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu. Sherman reiterated the need to continue bolstering U.S.-India ties and the importance of the strategic partnership.
Over the years, Sherman has also repeatedly expressed his sharp awareness and understanding of the challenges China’s rise poses to both India and the rest of the world. Speaking in 2017, Sherman said, “China has increased its military presence in Tibet…this not only impacts the Tibetan population but also affects India. We are trying to build a strategic relationship and partnership with India, and we have got to commend India for providing refuge to over 90,000 Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama himself, who have had to flee Chinese repression.”
Rep. Brad Sherman is top Democrat on Subcommittee on Asia in Congress (January 23, 2015)
Sherman has also spoken on the importance of resurrecting mechanisms aimed at deepening cooperation between like-minded democracies such as the “Quad” among the United States, India, Australia, and Japan. Back in 2018, he said, “we are reviving the quadrilateral group involving the U.S., Japan, Australia, and India. And whether it is conducting maritime patrols or whether it is working for development and democracy, this could be a useful working group.”
Following the 2019 Pulwama terror attack that killed dozens of Indian soldiers in Kashmir, Sherman was among the first to condemn the attack and reaffirm support for India and the bilateral partnership. Sherman went further than most other lawmakers at the time, calling on both Pakistan and China to be held accountable.
“I have been condemning China for preventing the [UN] Security Council from imposing sanctions on the leader of [terror group] Jaish-e-Mohammad. And who else deserves sanctions more than somebody that would plot such an attack?” Sherman asked at the time. “India and the US share so many things. Unfortunately, we share being the victims of international terror. I look forward to working with India on [matters of] mutual security,” Sherman said.
Sherman attracted significant criticism for an October 2019 subcommittee hearing he chaired on human rights in South Asia. India’s August 2019 decision on Article 370 and Kashmir were a big focus of the hearing, which was seen by large segments of the community as a forum for India bashing and one-sidedness against India. Certain members of Congress attacked “pro-India” witnesses and did not sufficiently implicate Pakistan’s responsibility for cross-border terrorism, including the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Pandit Kashmiris in the 1990s, according to the hearing’s critics.
But the hearing should be regarded as the exception to Sherman’s stalwart record on India, not the rule. In fact, certain Hill insiders have noted that Sherman’s decision to hold the subcommittee hearing prevented the issue from being taken up by the entire House in another forum or becoming a bigger, worse issue in an even less friendly forum. The hearing was also the first time a member of the Kashmiri Pandit community testified in front of the American Congress on the atrocities Kashmiri Pandits suffered at the hands of terrorists during the 1990s.
Hill insiders and community members also point out that Sherman deserves huge credit for his “behind the scenes” efforts preventing Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s controversial resolution on Kashmir from being marked-up and moving any further through the House’s legislative process. The resolution has become a lightning rod of criticism and controversy among large parts of the Indian American community and even across parts of India. “[Congressman Sherman] has played this exactly right, and has looked out for the U.S-India relationship from beginning to end,” one community member said who has been following the bilateral relationship for more than 40 years.
Brad Sherman has built deep ties with the Diaspora community in Southern California (where his district is) and across the U.S., engaging them on issues of importance to them. He has recognized the contributions of the Indian-American community to the United States innumerable times, “saluting” it for all it has done to make the U.S. a more vibrant, diverse, and successful melting pot.
Congressman Sherman’s record on U.S-India speaks for itself. He has served on every subcommittee on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has dedicated a large part of his Congressional career strengthening U.S.-India ties. His leadership on these issues is recognized by members on both sides of the aisles as well as community leaders across the United States. Should he take the gavel of the HFAC, the U.S-India relationship would be in safe, steady, and expert hands under his leadership.