It took a while for Orange County, Calif., to count all the mail-in votes, but officials there did it. The result: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) will be leaving Congress after 15 terms in the House. So as he leaves the stage, let’s spend a little bit of time saying goodbye to Rohrabacher, the soon-to-be ex-congressman from California’s 48th District. For Rohrabacher is, in his way, quite an important symbolic figure: He is the living, breathing embodiment of the moral corruption that has seeped into a part of the Republican Party foreign policy establishment — the part that long ago stopped caring about U.S. leadership of the democratic world.
He started his career as a Reaganite. But Rohrabacher long ago up gave pretending that he has any interest in freedom, or democracy, or even the Western alliance. For much of the past decade, he has served as the voice of foreign autocrats in Congress. Egged on by Natalia Veselnitsksaya — the Russian lawyer who met with Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, and offered them “dirt” on Hillary Clinton – Rohrabacher fought, for example, against the Magnitsky Act and its successor, the Global Magnitsky Act, the legislation that targets human rights violators and kleptocrats from Russia and elsewhere with individual sanctions. At one point, he arranged to show an infamous Russian propaganda film, smearing the Magnitsky Act and its main promoter, Bill Browder, in Congress. When Rep. Edward R. Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, blocked him from doing so, Rohrabacher’s office instead promoted the film’s showing at the Newseum.
But his position as the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe allowed Rohrabacher to go beyond Russian causes. Rohrabacher was famously photographed fishing with Nigel Farage, the leader of the pro-Brexit UK Independence Party, who has his own curious links to Moscow. I’ve been told that he kept in close contact with lobbyists for the illiberal Hungarian ruling party, Fidesz; he has also held hearings designed to promote their cause. He has visited Marine LePen — the far-right French politician whose presidential campaign received funding from Russia — to discuss “shared values” in the company of Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), the member of Congress most openly affiliated with white nationalism, who was sadly reelected.
None of this was a secret, and at some level, congressional Republicans have long been uncomfortable about Rohrabacher’s role. Infamously, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the then-House majority leader, once told a group of congressman that “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump.” But they never stopped him.
When the newly elected Democratic House opens for business, it might consider having a look at the role played by lobbyists for authoritarian politicians in Congress, with a particular emphasis on the role they played influencing Rohrabacher and his committee.
Rohrabacher’s departure is good news for other reasons. For one, it means that an American politician who flacks for foreign authoritarians does, in the end, pay an electoral price. More importantly, these midterms also made way for others who can help undo some of the damage. Many of the new Democratic intake are veterans and national security professionals who were inspired to run, in part, by the Trump administration’s assault on Western institutions and by the corruption in Congress. Tom Malinowski, for example, a former director at Human Rights Watch who held the human rights portfolio in President Barack Obama’s State Department, has won a House seat in New Jersey. One of his new colleagues in the New Jersey delegation, Mikie Sherrill, is a former Navy helicopter pilot. Abigail Spanberger, who beat the Trumpist Dave Brat in Virginia, is a former CIA officer. Elaine Luria, another former naval officer, will be one of Spanberger’s new colleagues in Virginia’s congressional delegation.
Any one of those newcomers would make a fine replacement for Rohrabacher on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. As the party of Ronald Reagan and John McCain abdicates its old international role, we need Democrats with real-world foreign policy experience to ensure that Congress goes on serving America’s interests, not the interests of America’s enemies.