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Chair Cardin Remarks at Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered opening remarks at the nominations hearing for Margaret Taylor, to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State; Erik Woodhouse, to be Head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination, with the rank of Ambassador; Robert Forden, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Cambodia; B. Bix Aliu, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Montenegro; and Dr. Michael Sfraga, to be Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs.

Chair Cardin urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to work together in swiftly confirming these highly qualified nominees without further delay.

Committee on Foreign Relations-Cardin Noms Hearing-2024-03-07


A copy of the Chair’s remarks, as delivered, have been provided below.

For the United States to protect and advance our interests around the world, we must have well qualified and committed public servants in our diplomatic posts. Today's nominees are incredibly competent and experienced, with almost 100 years of collective government service among the 4 current government employees, as well as a renowned expert on the Arctic. I'm gratified that they are before the committee today after a very long wait. I want to thank them personally for their willingness to serve and, in most cases, continue to serve in a public role. We know it's a sacrifice not only for you and your families, and we welcome your families here today and thank them for the sacrifices that they have made. I’m going to yield, as is the customary practice of our committee to members who want to introduce our nominees today.

If I were not speaking from the dais as Chair, I would have insisted on introducing Mrs. Taylor. I could not be a stronger proponent of her nomination. I am convinced that she is likely the most qualified individual ever nominated to be legal adviser – an impressive feat given the prior occupants of that position. She has been general counsel of USAID for almost three years, served as a career attorney in L as the Office of Legal Advisor as called for ten years – dare I say more – served with distinction on the staff of this committee as Chief Counsel and Deputy Staff Director. During the years that I had the privilege of working with Mrs. Taylor she proved to be a superb lawyer, a manager, a skilled negotiator, and a wonderful colleague. She is smart, tough, and persistent – exactly the person we need to lead our push back against China and Russia, as those countries seek to shape international law and institutions in their favor.

My enthusiasm for Mrs. Taylor is shared by all of the living former legal advisers from Reagan to Trump, who have written to Senator Risch and me a strong endorsement of her qualifications and her speedy confirmation. Well, we didn't do the speedy confirmation, but let's move this nomination forward. I have incredibly high regard for the office of Legal Adviser and the career officials who staff it. I'm deeply proud and enthusiastic that Mrs. Taylor, an alum and friend of both that office and this committee will be the next Legal Adviser, and I urge all of you to support her nomination here and on the floor.

Mr. Forden – Cambodia has now seen decades of Democratic backsliding. This has weakened its institution and endangered human rights. It has limited Cambodia's ability to play a positive role in ASEAN and other organizations in the Indo-Pacific, and has given Beijing an opening to expand its influence in the country's civilian and military infrastructure.

We need to get Mr. Forden on the ground to help address these challenges. I've received a resounding endorsement from Terry Branstad, who was the Ambassador to China during the Trump administration, with whom Mr. Forden served as Deputy Chief of Mission. The Ambassador writes that Mr. Forden’s outstanding leadership and management, coupled with his four decades of experience in East and Southeast Asia, make him extraordinarily well qualified candidate to be Ambassador to Cambodia and notes that Mr. Forden is an ideal candidate to protect U.S. interests against China's efforts in Cambodia. Without objection, that letter will be made part of our record.

Mr. Aliu – Montenegro is a valuable partner in the NATO alliance that hosts the largest number of Ukrainian refugees in the Balkans. It has been the target of Russia's influence, including an attempted coup to stop Montenegro from joining NATO. And Moscow also would like to derail its European Union membership prospects. We need an Ambassador on the ground who will work to support Montenegro's European aspirations. But I also want to quote from a letter from Georgette Mosbacher, Ambassador to Poland under President Trump and under whom you served. Ambassador Mosbacher highlighted your experience in the region, knowledge of the languages and culture and previous work in Montenegro. She said, “I simply cannot recommend a stronger, more capable leader or more decent human being than Bix.” Without object, that letter will also be made part of our record. High praise, and if confirmed, I expect you will continue to advocate for Europe whole free and at peace.

Mr. Woodhouse – the current embodiment of the Sanctions Coordinator office was created by this committee, led by Ranking Member Risch, and is essential to efforts to constrain our adversaries – be it Iran, North Korea, Russia, or terrorist groups like Hamas. There has been strong bipartisan support for its efforts and the individual that leads the office. You're superbly qualified for this position, having worked on and implemented sanctions up close from multiple angles at the Treasury Department as an attorney and private practice and your current position as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Sanctions. While you have been in that role, you have witnessed an impressive, coordinated campaign among more than 30 countries to hold Russia accountable for its war against Ukraine. This coordination has strengthened our alliances, laid critical groundwork for future sanction actions, and further isolated Russia and degraded its war machine. Sanctions has become an essential tool of our foreign policy, and we cannot afford to have the Sanctions Coordinator position vacant. We need Mr. Woodhouse in that place.

Dr. Sfraga – the Arctic is a dynamic, fragile and largely unexplored region of our world that holds both unique opportunities but also extreme risks. Dr. Sfraga is one of the world's foremost experts on the Arctic its environment, its resources, its people, its nations – making him an excellent choice to be the Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs. He hails from Alaska, is the founding director of the Wilson Center's Polar Institute and is Chairman of the United States Arctic Research Commission. He enjoys strong support from the co-chairs of the Artic Caucus – we already heard from Senator Murkowski, but also Senator King and Senator Sullivan.

For all of you today, I want to recognize the dedication every one of you brings to your work. I want to thank you and your families for your service. I look forward to hearing from each of you.

Some final points. First, I want to take a moment to thank Victoria Nuland for her incredible service to the country as Undersecretary for Political Affairs and several months as the acting Deputy Secretary. She is known in force at the State Department and around the world, and we will certainly miss her insight and wisdom. We are deeply appreciative of her service, her engagement with this committee, in particular, her stalwart efforts to advance U.S. interests in support in Ukraine. On a personal note, I treasure the opportunities I had to get her advice on very challenging circumstances around the world. She always was very frank in pointing out our needs and gave us excellent advice on how the Senate could operate.

Next, I'd like to address how we arrived at this hearing. The nominees on this panel have been pending in this committee for an average of more than 400 days. Let me repeat that. They've been pending in this committee for over 400 days.

I've tried to work with the Ranking Member since October to secure before this committee, and Senator Menendez has tried for many months before that. During that time, we've had numerous rationales offered for not consenting to a hearing, and I have sought to work through each one in good faith. My efforts have not resulted in agreement or any accommodation.

On February 26, Senator Risch and I received a letter from the Deputy Secretary of State Verma outlining the chronology of all their efforts in order to comply with the requests that were made by the State Department. So after several months, I've made a decision. I could either let these nominees languish without even giving the members of the committee an opportunity to hear from the nominees, or I could follow the precedent that Ranking Member Risch set as Chairman during the 116th Congress.

Now, I was neither Chair nor Ranking Member at that time, but I'm well aware that there were multiple instances with which the Chair noticed nominations over the objections of the minority. At that time, Chairman Risch emphasized his view. And let me just quote from my colleague, “A fair process requires that at some point document discovery must end, and the process of evaluating and questioning must begin. This can only occur in a hearing, in which every member of the committee has the opportunity to raise questions, voice concerns, or highlight any objections.” That's what Senator Risch said in the 116th. I do not recall any Republican members, several of whom are still on the committee today, objecting or expressing any concerns to that decision.

Today's hearing is not only critical to consider important national security nominations, it’s fully consistent with the Republican precedent of just a few years ago. I hope all of us can agree that there cannot be one standard for Republican nominees and a different standard for Democratic nominees. So that is how we arrived at today's hearing. But as we move forward, I want to emphasize my deep commitment to working with all members, both Democrats and Republicans, to do important work of the committee and the American people.

Senator Risch and I are working on an agenda for a business meeting that we hope we will be able to notice very shortly. We're working with several bipartisan bills that have been suggested by members of the Senate, including Senator Rubio and Hassan's bipartisan bill – the SHIP Act, which follows up on the hearing we had in regards to Iran, and enforcing the sanctions against Iran through secondary sanctions. We hope that we'll be able to bring that bill before our committee. We're working on a bill by Senator Coons and Graham that deals with the conservation needs; with Senators Shaheen and Wicker in regards to the Western Balkans; a bill that I'm working on with Senator Wicker in regards to International Freedom Protection Act; and several others. So we hope that we'll be able to note a business meeting shortly on these issues and others where we have bipartisan interests.

With that, let me turn it to the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch.