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Chairman Menendez Delivers Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Nominations for Senior State Department Posts

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 Wendy Sherman to serve as Deputy Secretary of State and Brian McKeon to serve as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

Below are Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered:

“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.  We are here today to consider nominees for two critical positions: Wendy Sherman to be Deputy Secretary of State, and Brian McKeon to be Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

They are both foreign policy veterans with deep experience in Congress and the executive branch. Ms. Sherman has held a series of positions at the State Department and is well versed in international affairs, and I would be remiss if I did not mention Mr. McKeon’s long service as Chief Counsel and Deputy Staff Director of this Committee under then-Chairman Biden.

We appreciate your willingness to return to government service. We thank your families as well, because inevitably they are part of the sacrifice.

I understand before I begin my opening comments that Senator Cardin would like to introduce Ambassador Sherman so I will now recognize him for that purpose. Senator Cardin.

Thank you, Senator Cardin, as an esteemed and respected senior member of the Committee, you are well served, Ambassador, by that glowing introduction, so thank you, Senator Cardin.

Let me start off with a few remarks to set the scene and then I will turn to the distinguished Ranking Member.

Ambassador Sherman and Mr. McKeon, before diving into some of the many regional and global challenges we face, I want to address the serious challenges facing the Department and its workforce. 

Our career foreign and civil service are an invaluable resource for this nation: their dedication, professionalism, and sacrifice deserve our gratitude and our support. But the last few years have been trying for the Department. There has been a stunning loss of expertise, steep declines in morale, little accountability for those at the top, and the Department has still not achieved a workforce that reflects the diversity of our great country.

It is clear that Secretary Blinken is setting a tone—and critically, an example—that will help restore trust and empower career experts. In particular, I appreciate his commitment to ensuring the Department’s leadership and workforce reflect the diversity of our nation, including the recent announcement of a Chief Diversity Officer.

It will, of course, take more than just a good example and hard work from the Secretary to rebuild the Department and its workforce. I look forward to hearing from both of you on how you will contribute to that cause. 

You also both know the importance of a strong relationship between the Department and Congress, and the value of engaging and securing congressional support on major foreign policy decisions. In recent years that relationship has suffered. I appreciate the Secretary’s acknowledgement of the problem and commitment to productive engagement with this Committee. I expect to work with him and you to solidify this relationship so that it does not vacillate from one administration to another.  

While restoring and rebuilding the Department is essential, we face a series of pressing challenges around the world. I’ll just highlight a few.

Iran. As I’m sure you remember, I was not a proponent of the JCPOA. But I also believed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw without a serious strategy involving our allies would ultimately leave us less safe and Iran emboldened. Unfortunately, my belief has been realized by Iran’s continuing aggression across the Middle East and the recent IAEA report that Iran's enriched uranium stockpile is now more than 14 times over the JCPOA limit.

Public reports suggest that they are three months away from crossing the nuclear threshold.

I support this Administration’s plan to return to diplomacy, but returning to the JCPOA without concrete actions to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activities will be insufficient. I believe there is bipartisan support to find a comprehensive, diplomatic approach with Iran that includes working closely with our European and regional partners. I urge you to do everything possible to find this sweet spot because without bipartisan support, no deal will be durable.

Russia continues to challenge the U.S. and our allies around the world.  I welcome the President’s commitment to lead again on areas requiring cooperation, like strategic stability and arms control. But the U.S. is also obligated to counter the Kremlin as it uses its military to attack neighbors, its media to lie to the world, its oligarchs to corrupt our economies, and its security forces to repress peaceful domestic opposition.

Many on this committee are focused on the Nordstream 2 pipeline. I have supported legislation to stop the pipeline. It is the congressional will, as is evidenced by its passage, and urge the Administration to act with urgency to block this effort. 

In our own hemisphere, democratic governance is under deep strain. Cuba remains under the rule of an entrenched dictatorship. Venezuela has been kidnapped by a brutal criminal regime. And fraudulent, deeply flawed presidential elections have led to political crises in multiple countries.

Across the region, irregular migration has skyrocketed as citizens face diminished prospects, crime, and lose hope in their home countries. More than 5 million people have fled Venezuela, and hundreds of thousands are abandoning El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Addressing these crises require effective leadership.

I am very concerned about the viability of the peace process in Afghanistan. The Taliban is clearly is not abiding by all of its commitments under the Feb 29th agreement, calling into question the future of Afghan security and governance. We need senior-level focused attention from the Department.

On Africa, this was another casualty, in my view, of the Trump administration. We are losing the Sahel. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index found that seven of the ten countries with the largest increase in terrorism were in sub-Saharan Africa. Fragile democratic transitions are in jeopardy in Ethiopia and Sudan, while there is significant democratic backsliding in Uganda, Tanzania, Mali and Ivory Coast. Here too, we need senior-level attention and an effective strategy. 

I’ll save China for questions, but it is clearly the single most significant foreign policy challenge to the United States. We must not only confront China, but we must compete with it. I look forward to hearing some of your views in that regard.

Finally, I would be remiss not to note that there are American citizens being held hostage or otherwise unlawfully or wrongfully detained in many countries around the world. Iran is among the worst offenders including the wrongful detention of Siamak Namazi and, more recently, Emad Shargi. As the lead sponsor of the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, which was signed into law last year, I want and expect to work with you to make sure the Administration is doing everything possible to bring these Americans home now and to implement the Levinson Act quickly and effectively. There is nothing more critical to our foreign policy than the safety of Americans abroad.

With that, I look forward to hearing your remarks, and I turn to the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch, for his comments.”