June 15, 2021

Chairman Menendez Delivers Opening Remarks at Committee Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s Committee hearing on the nominations of the Honorable Todd D. Robinson to be an Assistant Secretary of State (International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs), Mr. Brett M. Holmgren to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Intelligence and Research), and the Honorable Daniel J. Kritenbrink to be an Assistant Secretary of State (East Asian and Pacific Affairs).

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below. 

“We are here today to consider nominees for three important positions: Ambassador Todd Robinson to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Mr. Brett Holmgren to be Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research.

Congratulations to the three of you on your nominations. I appreciate your commitment and willingness to serve our country and your families as well.

Ambassador Robinson, it is nice to have you back before this Committee for another confirmation hearing, this time as a nominee to lead the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which we know as INL —one of the most important offices for strengthening democratic governance and the rule of law globally.

INL’s work around the world is critical to countering narcotics trafficking, criminal syndicates, money laundering, and other financial crimes; addressing the criminal use of ransomware and malware; combating illegal mining and fishing; and supporting efforts to combat gender-based violence.

Over the last decade, authoritarian leaders have increasingly wielded criminality and kleptocracy as tools to debilitate democracy at home and foment instability beyond their borders. I welcome President Biden’s recent directive establishing the fight against kleptocracy as a key national security priority and making it clear that we will tackle its corrosive impact. INL has a central role to play in that fight.

INL is also at the forefront of our international efforts to combat narcotics trafficking. CDC data shows that over 70,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2019, including over 2,800 in my home state of New Jersey. I am particularly concerned about the lethal impact of fentanyl, as well as the illicit production and trafficking routes that extend through Mexico and back to China. While we must improve our public health responses to address drug abuse domestically, INL’s work is essential to countering drug trafficking by transnational criminal organizations.

So I look forward to hearing from you about your vision for the bureau and your plans for strengthening justice systems and law enforcement cooperation to advance our national security interests.

Ambassador Kritenbrink, I am also pleased to have you back before this Committee for another confirmation hearing. I think the last time we saw each other was in China. Your career as a public servant and your extensive experience in the region will be critical as you take on this important role.

In recent years and under Administrations and Congresses of both parties, the United States has reassessed and rebalanced our approach to the Indo-Pacific to take into account the reality of our competitive relationship with China. 

Although this new era of strategic competition may not be what many of us had hoped for in the U.S.-China relationship, it is our reality and we must deal with it with clear-eyed pragmatism—starting with rebuilding and replenishing the sources of our national strength here at home and our alliances and partnerships abroad. The recently passed Senate China competition package, including the Strategic Competition Act that the Ranking Member and I and other members of this Committee authored, marks our effort to contribute to that process.

Beyond China, the region you will be responsible for is rich with pressing challenges—from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, which only grew stronger under President Trump’s ill-conceived North Korea policy, to a coup plunging Burma back into chaos, to a roll-back in human rights and democracy across the region.

I know that you are intimately familiar with these issues and we look forward to hearing your thoughts today on how we can best position the United Sates for success there in the years ahead.

Mr. Holmgren, the independent analysis of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research has long been recognized as among the best, most reliable, and most careful, of the Intelligence Community.

We have today a nominee for Assistant Secretary of INR that brings a great breadth of experience to its mission. Mr. Holmgren has held significant experience relevant to INR’s mission, including serving as a Senior Director for Intelligence and for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council, as well as service at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon. I have little doubt that such experience will be of immense benefit to the State Department Bureau. 

INR is an invaluable resource for the Secretary of State, senior officials, and the Department overall. Indeed, the Bureau could also be of immense benefit to this Committee. Our oversight of U.S. foreign policy would be better served by more regular contact and briefings from INR, and I look forward to that engagement with you should you be confirmed, something that has been missing in the past, and I hope under your leadership we can engage with the Committee more robustly.

In closing, the three of you have an immense task ahead but I have no doubt that your knowledge and experience will serve you well and the nation well as you take on these new responsibilities.

I look forward to each of your testimonies. Let me turn to the Ranking Member for his opening remarks.”

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