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Cardin Challenges Tillerson on Administration’s State Dept., Foreign Assistance Budget Request

“We meet at a time of deep – and mounting -- concern regarding the tone, substance, and trajectory of your administration’s foreign policy.” “My starting point is to be prepared to work with my Democratic and like-minded Republican colleagues to make sure nothing remotely close to this budget is enacted.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing, “Review of the FY 2018 State Department Budget Request,” with witness Secretary of State Rex Tillerson:

“Mr. Chairman, let me also welcome the Secretary here, in order to discuss the proposed budget and other issues that are important for our national security.

“I just want to make an observation before I start my formal statement that reviewing the administration’s FY 18 Budget is ‘a waste of time’. I know that we’re going to write our own budget. Yesterday, I was in Ellicott City which suffered from a major, major flood almost a year ago. And I was talking to a federal administrator there, not from the State Department, it was a different agency, about the tools that we need to make available for the businesses in Ellicott City in order to recover from that horrible tragedy. And that the President’s FY 18 Budget for that agency would not allow the federal partner to continue providing mentoring services to the businesses. And that it was a challenge for the administrator to be able to carry this out with the instructions being given by OMB in regards to the budget issues.

“So Mr. Chairman, I don’t think the FY 18 Budget review is a waste of time. I think we’ll write our own budget, but I do think it has a chilling impact on State Department, with the career people trying to carry out their missions, believing that their supervisors have a different vision as to what is necessary to carry out that mission.

“We meet at a challenging time for the State Department and for our nation. 

“Mr. Secretary, we meet at a time of deep – and mounting -- concern regarding the tone, substance, and trajectory of your administration’s foreign policy.

“Seventy years ago this month one of your predecessors, George Marshall, delivered a speech that helped cement his reputation as a key architect of the post-War effort to build a liberal international order.  He was ‘present at the creation’. 

“My concern today, quite frankly, is that your Administration will go down in the history books as being ‘present at the destruction’ of that order we have worked so hard to support – and that has so benefitted our security and prosperity and ideals.

“Mr. Secretary, I am deeply concerned with the direction that President Trump appears intent on taking this country - and the world, with it.

“Indeed, no matter where we look around the world today it seems that American interests and values, and the international system which we have led, is under threat and under pressure. 

“Most troublingly, much of that recent pressure is coming not only from external forces and foes, – but also from the President of the United States and from your administration.

“I cannot tell you how devastating the President’s decision to walk away from the Paris Accords was, not only to our allies abroad but also to many Americans.

“That decision to abdicate American leadership sent shock waves around the globe, raising questions about our fundamental engagement as a stakeholder in the international order that the United States has worked so hard to help build and lead over the past seven decades.

“I truly believe that climate change will be a defining issue for our generation --  not just an environmental or security issue, or even an economic issue, although it is all of those, but a moral issue on which our success or failure as stewards of our nation’s interest and as shapers of global interest will rise or fall.

“In your confirmation hearing you said in response to one of my questions, ‘I think it's important that the United States maintain its seat at the table on the conversations around, how to address threats of climate change, which do require a global response. No one country is going to solve this alone.’  Well, today we find that we have left our seat at the table and shredded the efforts of the international community to respond to climate change.  And, we stand alone.

“When President Trump repudiated Paris he repudiated all our partners in the international community, indeed the very idea of an international community. 

“It was, to quote from an op-ed penned by two of your colleagues, General H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, the encapsulation of a view that ‘the world is not a 'global community' but an arena where nations, nongovernmental actors and businesses engage and compete for advantage.…. Rather than deny this elemental nature of international affairs, we embrace it.’

“So we’ve given up on the international community? Those words are hard to read.

“President Truman once described the Marshall Plan as ‘the dividing line between the old era of national suspicion, economic hostility and isolationism, and the new era of mutual cooperation to increase the prosperity of people throughout the world.’

“And I would agree, Mr. Secretary, that in advancing this new era of mutual cooperation that successive bipartisan administrations effectively put America first. 

“A return to the old era – be it by walking away from Paris or by the President’s refusal to pledge to honor our Article V commitments to NATO, or proposing a budget that would abruptly terminate key development investments in dozens of countries – we find America isolated, alone, and last.

“American leadership and engagement on global issues and with global leaders is perhaps more vital today than ever before.  And there is simply no substitute for a presidential commitment to American leadership and engagement.  

“An ‘America first’ approach, risks undermining key tools and mechanisms that enable United States leadership in the world, and I am deeply concerned that your administration’s approach does not place America first, but rather leaves America alone, and places our interests and values at risk.

“Our position as leader of the free world is at risk.  The ideas of democracy as a model, of diplomacy as a force multiplier, and of development as a catalyst for change are being significantly challenged.

“The idea of a Europe whole and free, the well-spring of our security and prosperity for the past seventy years, is now being undermined, including by the President himself, who hurls insults at the Mayor of London following a terrorist incident and appears indifferent, at best, to our treaty commitments to our European allies. 

“Russia and China appear to be elevated to privileged positions ahead of our allies in a new game of Great Power politics, while treaty allies like Australia and the Republic of Korea and democratic allies and partners seeking to uphold international norms and standards are subject to bullying.

“The leaders of Egypt and the Philippines, and others who commit devastating human rights offenses are embraced….While the rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people and the Filipino people are dismissed.

“Russia has attacked our democracy, illegally annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine -- yet President Trump and your administration seem hell-bent on finding accommodation and appeasement, even exploring how to return seized Russian spy facilities in the United States…which presumably Putin will be able to once again put to good use.

“As I have said before, democracy does not defend itself. We – those of us on this dais, those of us in this room – must defend democracy and must defend the notion of good governance. We know that America derives its strength from its values and we must never retreat from that core concept. Yet, when you suggested in a speech at the Department of State earlier this year that we could divorce our values from our policies you suggested just such a retreat.

“The deep cuts to international affairs spending in your budget proposal is, an approach to American foreign policy that is nothing less than a devastating assault on American interests and values. 

“What is most perplexing to me about your efforts to gut international affairs spending is that, from Defense Secretary James Mattis on down, senior military officials consistently speak about how important the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are to their work.

“Slashing of our foreign operations and foreign assistance makes the world more dangerous for America and Americans.  Yet that is precisely what your budget seeks to do.

“This budget takes a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach that will cost lives abroad and endanger Americans here at home. 

“The proposed cuts to the State Department and foreign assistance budget suggested by you and by the Trump Administration will fatally undermine our ability to renew and revive our leadership, and will leave us less safe and less secure in an increasingly complex world, unable to advance our ideals or to secure our prosperity. It is indeed a budget that is intended to be ‘present at the destruction.’

“So I look forward to hearing your thoughts and views on how this budget advances our interests and values around the world, but I can tell you that my starting point is to be prepared to work with my Democratic and like-minded Republican colleagues to make sure nothing remotely close to this budget is enacted.”