New Congressman Brendan Boyle Plunges Into World Affairs

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by Tony West
It’s a long way from the IHOP on Roosevelt Boulevard to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Washington, D.C. But freshman Congressman Brendan Boyle (D-Phila.) has made that trip now.

And what a ride it’s been! The chaos engulfing the Middle East, the fighting in Ukraine, the turmoil in Venezuela, the seething drug cartels of Central America, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa – all are lighting up the front pages and the evening news these days.

“It’s certainly not boring,” Boyle said cheerfully in a recent interview.

But it’s what he asked for. Boyle approached House Democrats Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) right after he was elected in November and made a bid for that committee assignment. “It was something I pushed for and was very much interested in,” he said. Only one Democratic slot was available; Boyle ended up being chosen over every other candidate.

CONGRESSMAN Brendan Boyle's horizons now extend beyond N.E. Phila. & Montgomery County as far as the Persian Gulf.

CONGRESSMAN Brendan Boyle’s horizons now extend beyond N.E. Phila. & Montgomery County as far as the Persian Gulf.

Less than three months into his new duties, Boyle has already engaged in briefings on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the Iranian nuclear negotiations – major challenges all. As he sits on the Subcommittee on the Middle East & North Africa, he expects to be in the thick of things this term.

Boyle attended the controversial address to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the Iranian nuclear talks, which some other Democrats boycotted. “A lot of us on the Democratic side of the aisle are quite uncomfortable with the direction negotiations are taking and are very concerned,” he commented. But the subsequent letter by 47 Senate Republican to Ayatollah Khamenei offended Boyle, who called it “a tremendous breach of conduct.”

Overall, though, Boyle has found the House Foreign Relations Committee to be a relative oasis of bipartisan cordiality. He hailed the cooperative leadership of Majority Chair Edward Royce (R-Cal.) and his Democratic counterpart Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

Boyle has been forging alliances across the aisle in other ways. He joined a group of younger Members of Congress who work out together, led by Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), who is a former professional mixed martial-arts fighter.

Boyle has taken one trip abroad in the line of duty, to Dubai, as part of a congressional deputation to the United Arab Emirates foreign minister to discuss joint operations against ISIS and in the Persian Gulf. His four-day trip made for a fascinating introduction, both to the complexities of Middle East diplomacy and to Dubai itself, a city as unlike Philadelphia as possible.

“Our city has been growing organically since the 1600s,” Boyle explained. “Dubai is like a Manhattan that has been built from scratch in the last 15 years.” Intrigued by this hypermodern urban space, he wonders now if it models forward-thinking systems that can be brought back home. For instance, one section of city was constructed to be entirely carbon-neutral, he noted.

Foreign policy demands a steady focus. Ordinary Americans, on the other hand, take a fitful interest in international events.

“How much they care about these issues is totally dependent on what is going on in the world at that time,” mused Boyle. “When times are peaceful, we focus on economic growth, social security and education – things that relate to our daily lives. However, when something goes wrong internationally, foreign relations go from ‘not on the radar’ to ‘very important.’ The awful beheadings by ISIS, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine remind us the rest of the world really does matter.”

Last weekend was a perfect example, Boyle said. He spoke at a synagogue in Montgomery County where Netanyahu’s speech was of keen interest; the Congressman, who is of Irish descent, also attended a St. Patrick’s Day event, where he could discuss work with the Irish prime minister to bring about a lasting peace in Northern Ireland.

Foreign affairs are just one part of Boyle’s portfolio. He also sits on the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. And every Member of Congress needs to keep an ear to the broad spectrum of his district’s concerns.

Boyle said he’s up to it: “People can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

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