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Menendez Casts “No” vote on Secretary of State Nominee Mike Pompeo during Senate Foreign Relations Committee Vote

“Unfortunately, I do not believe Director Pompeo is someone who will always prioritize diplomacy over conflict, particularly in the context of the aggressive foreign policy voices growing around him.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke at today’s Committee business meeting ahead of the vote for Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State. Below are Senator Menendez’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Chairman, let me say a few things about the nominee, but before I do let me just say that Democrats on this committee have worked overwhelmingly with you in moving nominations, in being constructively a part of hearings, and in voting for a wide range of nominations. Many of us, including myself, have voted for the President’s nominees for cabinet members – from the Secretary of Defense to the former Secretary of Homeland Security, now the Chief of Staff, to the Small Business Administrator, to the Transportation Secretary – so this suggestion that there is partisanship simply because you do not support a nominee is ridiculous based upon the facts. And you know from the previous administration and my comments that I believe very strongly that the Congress plays a vital role in the check and balance on any executive branch. And I believe that regardless of who is sitting in the White House. That’s what Article I is all about.

Mr. Chairman, I am genuinely disappointed to have to cast a vote against a Secretary of State nominee. But at the end of the day, as I considered Director Pompeo’s nomination including his hearing, his past statements, and recent revelations, I do not have a satisfactory answer to the question: which Mike Pompeo am I voting on?

Unfortunately, during his hearing, Director Pompeo offered contradictory statements, and was less than forthcoming when pressed on a number of issues.

Given the opportunity to outline the strategies he would advocate to deal with Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, or Venezuela, he failed to exhibit the depth of knowledge or thoughtfulness about what those strategies would be. Clearly any nominee would know that those would be hotspots in the world which would have to be addressed before the committee. 

Truthfulness and the willingness to be forthcoming to this Committee are essential in a Secretary of State nominee. But on both his interview with Special Counsel Mueller about Russia, and his nondisclosure of his trip to North Korea, even in a classified setting where he would have had that opportunity, both critical issues before this committee, both of which members on both sides of the aisle peppered him with questions about, he exhibited that he was more suited to be the CIA Director than Secretary of State because he wanted to be clandestine at the end of the day.

I don’t expect a Cabinet Secretary to publicly disagree with the President; indeed it is his or her duty to carry out the President’s agenda. But as policies are being worked out, I remain skeptical of the kind of diplomat that Director Pompeo would be; whether he would be willing to push back on the President’s worst instincts, whether he would be willing to say no, or whether he would simply be a yes-man.

When the President blames Russia’s aggressive behavior on Democrats, will Director Pompeo remind him that Russia’s aggressive behavior is about Russia and its attacks upon our country – something that doesn’t seem to be able to come off the lips of the President?

When the President wants to call Mexicans drug-traffickers and rapists, as our nation’s top diplomat, would Director Pompeo advise him not to? Or would the Pompeo who once called a political opponent a “turban-topper” prevail?

As our nation’s top diplomat, would Director Pompeo genuinely promote American values of universal equality and individual human dignity? Or, will we be represented by Congressman Pompeo - who voted against the Violence Against Women’s Act - to deny support to victims of gender-based violence - and sponsored legislation to roll-back marriage equality?

As I’ve said before, I believe it is imperative for the Secretary of State to be forthright, to be someone in whom the American people and our allies can vest faith and trust. Unfortunately, I do not believe Director Pompeo is someone who will always prioritize diplomacy over conflict, particularly in the context of the aggressive foreign policy voices growing around him. I am particularly concerned because of his past comments on regime change in North Korea and Iran, for example.

So these are the legitimate concerns that I and many of my colleagues have, although they can express their own views on why. And I appreciate Mr. Chairman, that you say in your opening comments that Director Pompeo has a great relationship with the President – I do believe that being able to speak on behalf of the President and not be undercut, as his former Secretary of State was, is important. But does that great relationship mean that you value that relationship more than the truth? Does that great relationship have you hesitate to push back and say ‘Mr. President, this is not the best way to proceed’? I wonder.

Now, we didn’t choose that there’s a NATO meeting this Friday. We didn’t choose the moment President Trump fired Secretary Tillerson. We didn’t choose as to when he nominated Director Pompeo or when Director Pompeo got all his information in on his questionnaire. We didn’t choose when he got his answers in to questions proffered to him by the committee. So while I appreciate that there’s a NATO summit, it is not fair to suggest that that is the essence of why we have to cast an affirmative vote for a nominee who otherwise, in many of our view, is flawed.

And I will just say that we cleared today’s vote. We cleared a second meeting in case there was a need for a second meeting tomorrow. You know some people said they were voting “no” and maybe they’re voting “yes” today, but the bottom line is in anticipation – in order to give a fair opportunity to this nominee – we cleared a meeting notice today and another for tomorrow too. And I think putting that all in context is important for understanding that this is not about simply being adversarial to the President. This is about the due diligence of Article I and the views as to whether or not this is a Secretary of State nominee who deserves the votes of each and every member.