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 full Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Mr. Marc Evans Knapper to be Ambassador to Vietnam and the Assistant Secretary of State nominations of the Honorable Gentry O. Smith (Diplomatic Security), the Honorable Rena Bitter (Consular Affairs), and Ms. Monica P. Medina (Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs).
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
“We are here to consider nominees for four important positions: Ambassador Gentry Smith to be Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Ambassador Rena Bitter to be Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Ms. Monica Medina to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; and Mr. Marc Knapper to be Ambassador to Vietnam.
Congratulations to the four of you on your nominations. Our thanks for your willingness to serve our country in this capacity, and the members of your families because this is a family sacrifice as well, so we appreciate their sacrifices.
I see that our distinguished colleague and member of this Committee, the Senator from Massachusetts, is going to be introducing Ms. Medina this morning. We will turn to him first before any opening statements. Senator Markey?
Thank you, Senator Markey, a rather glowing introduction, and we know that you have well earned. I know that you may have other committee businesses to do, so at your leisure, you are welcome to depart from us, and thank you for your introduction.
Let me turn to our panel to speak briefly about each of them, turn to Senator Risch, and then we will listen to your testimony.
Ambassador Smith has served the United States and the State Department nearly his entire professional career, with two-and-a-half decades ensuring the security of U.S. diplomatic personnel and U.S. citizens, here and abroad. He has been a Special Agent protecting the Secretary of State, a regional security officer in multiple foreign posts, a Deputy Assistant Secretary and a Senior Advisor in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. He has also served as Director for the Office of Foreign Missions, for which he was previously confirmed by the Senate. There is no question in my mind that he is fully qualified and deeply experienced for this position.
Ambassador Smith’s experience and commitment will be needed as the State Department faces multiple challenges in keeping its personnel safe, including a relatively new one. Indeed, U.S. personnel have recently faced the prospect of silent, stealthy assault from what may be some sort of directed energy weapons, first employed in Cuba and now showing up in other parts of the world.
These incidents deserve the full attention of the United States in order to ensure accountability and that the parties responsible are brought to justice, but most of all, to protect personnel. Ambassador Smith, I trust that you, if confirmed, will be devoted in your efforts to meet this and all threats against U.S. diplomatic and other personnel.
Ms. Medina, as our colleague, Senator Markey, has said, your knowledge and experience— including as Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce and in various leadership roles focused on ocean conservation and environmental policy— suits you well for this position.
If confirmed as Assistant Secretary for the Bureau for Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs (OES), you will be responsible for maintaining U.S. leadership on cooperative efforts to maintain the health and sustainability of the world we all share.
If confirmed, you will also be responsible for managing U.S. diplomacy on addressing global plastic pollution, protecting endangered species and combatting wildlife trafficking, representing the U.S. at the Montreal Protocol and the Arctic Council, among others. I know you are up to that challenge.
As you may know, I co-authored the Save our Seas 2.0 Act and I look forward to working with you on the next steps to combatting plastic pollution and other global environmental problems.
Ambassador Bitter, I’m pleased to see you back before the Committee. Your service in Laos these past several years, apparently may not have made headlines in Washington, but it has been with distinction.
The position you are nominated for — as Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs (CA) — is perhaps one of the most challenging positions in the Department today. The effects of the COVID pandemic have been particularly felt in CA—from the massive repatriation of American Citizens from abroad carried out by the Department last year to the financial challenges resulting from the CA’s fee-for-service model at a time when fees have dried up as a result of decreased international travel.
That is something that has changed dramatically. We now have a huge demand and big backlog on passports, which several colleagues on the Committee have raised with me. I’m sure that will be raised with you as to how we deal with it.
The mismanagement of the Department, broadly speaking, and Consular Affairs in particular, over the past four years leaves the next Assistant Secretary with no shortage of challenges. As Consular Affairs is also the part of the Department that has the most engagement with American citizens — processing passports and visas, supporting overseas travelers in need, and the like—it’s also a bureau that receives a high-level of congressional scrutiny. While the challenges in this bureau are evident, I am confident in your abilities and capacity to serve capably in this position.
Finally, I am also pleased to see Marc Knapper before the Committee for consideration as our next ambassador to Vietnam. As we look to develop a genuine strategic partnership with Hanoi, one animated by our shared interests and our values, I can think of few more qualified Foreign Service professionals than Mr. Knapper to be entrusted with this important task.
In closing, while the four of you have a series of challenges ahead, I am confident that your knowledge and experience will serve you well as you take on your new responsibilities, upon confirmation.
I look forward to each of your testimonies and with that let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member for opening comments.”