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Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Critical State Department Nominations

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s full Committee hearing to consider the nominations of the Honorable Jack A. Markell to be Representative of the United States of America to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, with the rank of Ambassador; the Honorable Mark Gitenstein to be Representative of the United States of America to the European Union, with the rank and status of Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary; the Honorable Jeffry Lane Flake, of Arizona, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Turkey; and Ms. Cindy Hensley McCain, of Arizona, for the Rank of Ambassador during her tenure of service as U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture:

“We are here to consider nominations for four important positions: Senator Jeff Flake to be Ambassador to Turkey, Ambassador Mark Gitenstein to be U.S. Representative to the European Union, Ms. Cindy McCain to be U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, and Governor Jack Markell to be U.S. Representative to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Congratulations on your nominations as well as to your families who are part of the sacrifice of this process. We certainly appreciate them as well. The four of you have a distinguished history of public service and advocacy and I appreciate your willingness to serve the country in this capacity.

I understand that Senator Coons will be introducing Senator Flake in a great, grand show of bipartisanship at a time it is difficult to achieve it here, and Governor Markell, and that Senator Graham, who we welcome back to the Committee – he left us precipitously – will be introducing Ms. McCain.

Senator Coons?

Thank you, Senator Coons.

Senator Graham?

Thank you Senator Graham. I know that both of our colleagues have other obligations so they should feel free to leave when they need to.

Let me turn to our nominees.

Senator Flake, welcome back to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Given Turkey’s aggressive actions in the region, as well as the repressive tactics used by the Erdogan regime against its own people at home, we need an Ambassador who will not hesitate to hold Turkey accountable and will push it to live up the principles that undergird NATO membership—individual liberty, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Erdogan’s repression is unbefitting of a democracy, and unbefitting of a NATO ally. Democracies don’t jail journalists, intimidate academics, and infringe upon freedom of religion. They don’t renege on their commitments to stop violence against women. And they don’t put political opponents in prison.

Senator, you will have your work cut out for you. I look forward to hearing how you plan to address some of these challenges waiting in Ankara.

Ambassador Gitenstein, we welcome your nomination to this post at a critical time in the transatlantic relationship. The bond between the United States and the European Union has been tested in recent years. Former President Trump repeatedly mocked our European allies, while sabotaging the strategic relationship at seemingly every turn.

I believe that close ties between Brussels and Washington are not just in our national interests, but in the interests of democracies everywhere.

Going forward, smart diplomacy and careful coordination with our European allies will be critical to dealing with the challenges we both face — whether it be Russia’s ambitions in Eastern Europe, China’s growing soft power influence and investment in the Balkans or Turkey’s aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean. Having an ambassador who works with our European allies will be an important first step.   

As Nord Stream 2 continues to be a concern, I hope you develop a strategy with our European friends on a comprehensive energy plan that shields Europe from extortion at the hands of the Kremlin. In short, we need someone with your knowledge, expertise, and proven record as a diplomat in Brussels as quickly as possible.

Ms. McCain, congratulations on your nomination. I admire your years of advocacy for vulnerable persons around the world including your commitment to combatting human trafficking globally.

You shared that powerful commitment with your husband of almost forty years, and our much admired and missed colleague, Senator John McCain.  For these reasons I believe you are a superb choice to serve as the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture.

The challenges these UN agencies face today, as you and I discussed yesterday, are enormous. In this year alone, the number of people in need of urgent food assistance is expected to reach 270 million, double that of 2020. Conflict and instability continue to push millions of people into acute food insecurity, climate change threatens food production, and the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change exacerbate the situation further.

Your role at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization is of the utmost importance in supporting the United Nations’ work to eradicate poverty, hunger, food insecurity, and promote sustainable agriculture-led economic growth.

Your strong leadership will be essential to empowering, supporting, and guiding these agencies in this critical work. 

Governor Markell, congratulations on your nomination. I appreciate your service, not only as Governor of Delaware but, most recently, as the White House’s Coordinator for Operation Allies.

At a time of growing nationalistic sentiment, we must remain at the leadership of international economic and financial institutions, not abdicate that role. We must work with our allies to create a stronger, more inclusive global economy that benefits everybody.

The OECD is an important tool for U.S. diplomacy. Together, with OECD member states—which account for 63 percent of the world’s GDP and three quarters of all the world trade—we can confront the challenges of a global economy.

So I look forward to hearing about how you plan to approach the OECD, upon your confirmation, and how you will use your position to advance U.S. interests such as free-markets and good governance in the liberal international order.

With that, let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member for his opening comments, Senator Risch.”