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Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Nominations for Israel, Canada, Costa Rica Ambassadors

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 nominations of the Honorable Thomas R. Nides to be U.S. Ambassador to the State of Israel; Mr. David L. Cohen to be U.S. Ambassador to Canada; Dr. Cynthia Ann Telles to be Ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica; Ms. Sarah Margon to be Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; and the Honorable Tom Udall to be U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand and to the Independent State of Samoa:

“We are here today to consider nominations for five very important positions: on the first panel, we will hear from Mr. Thomas Nides, to be Ambassador to Israel, Mr. David Cohen, to be Ambassador to Canada, and Dr. Cynthia Telles to be Ambassador to Costa Rica. We are also pleased to have a number of our colleagues here to introduce some of these nominees, so I will turn to them in order.

Senator Klobuchar, I understand you will be introducing Mr. Nides.

Thank you very much. Senator Casey, Senator Toomey, I understand you will be introducing Mr. Cohen. I will ask Senator Casey to go first and then Senator Toomey.

Thank you. Senator Toomey?

Thank you. Last but not least, our distinguished colleague from California is going to introduce Dr. Telles. Senator Padilla?

Thank you, Senator Padilla. With that background, maybe we should have Dr. Telles work with us here in Washington to solve a few things.

Thank you very much. Thank you to all of the senators who made presentations.

Let me turn now first to a little bit of Committee business before I get to the nominees.

I appreciate the Ranking Member’s willingness to move forward with nine nominees that the Committee was scheduled to consider today. We postponed the hearing this afternoon out of deference to one of our members, but that has been rescheduled for next week. 

I am also glad that you agreed to a few of the nominees that I proposed for hearings next week and that you indicated, albeit with many caveats, that you may be ready to notice more. I certain hope that materializes.

I remain deeply concerned, however, by the delays and obstacles facing the bulk of nominees when it comes to securing your approval for their hearings. It is inexplicably taking an average of six weeks – almost 40 days  – from the time a nominee’s file is complete to the time that the Minority is willing to move forward, and that’s just for a hearing. This is almost four weeks slower than it took during a similar period in 2009. I ask: how is that possible? 

As you know, we have a massive backlog of State Department, USAID, and other nominations pending before the Committee. We have almost reached 80 and the number continues to grow. 

The nominations pending include ambassadorships to China, Japan, and countries throughout Latin America, Africa and Europe – places where competition with China and Russia is real – where we need ambassadors in place to project U.S. power, to assist our citizens, and to promote our companies.

I just ask Senator Risch: I appreciate the work we’ve done so far. I need your full cooperation and participation to tackle this backlog. I would just note that when faced with similar numbers in 2009, the Majority and the Minority worked together to move 57 nominees in just one month. There is no reason we can’t do that if we work together.

To date, I have noticed only nominees who the Ranking Member has agreed to – in fact, I have bent over backwards to restore the tradition of comity that was abandoned in the last Congress – but the slow pace and many obstacles to moving nominees is unacceptable. It’s dangerous. We are less safe when our national security agencies are so short-staffed. We have to fix this problem. We owe it to the Senate, and we owe it to all Americans. I look forward to working with you to try to achieve that.

Let me turn to our nominees: welcome, and thank you and your families for your willingness to serve the country in this capacity. I will briefly address each of the positions you have been nominated for.

Mr. Nides, welcome back to the Committee. I’m pleased to see such a qualified and capable nominee for one of our most vital allies. Your extensive experience in management, including as the Deputy Secretary of State will surely serve you well in navigating the particulars of our embassy in Jerusalem.

As Israel settles into its new government, it’s critical that we have an experienced diplomat in place to help pursue many of our shared U.S. and Israeli interests across national security, technology, and cultural and religious exchanges. While some may try to exploit any small fissures or differences in policy opinions between our two countries, this Committee, the Senate and the Congress as a whole have repeatedly confirmed our unwavering support for Israel’s security and its right to defend itself in the face of neighbors who continue to threaten to wipe it off the map.

Finally, to all our friends who may or may not be watching in Israel and here – let me wish you all a chag Sukkot sameach. I look forward to hearing from Mr. Nides.

I am pleased that we are reviewing the nomination for our next ambassador to Canada. Our alliance with our northern neighbor is one of the most important partnerships that we have. United by shared security interests and strengthened by expansive economic ties, our nations are linked by a common commitment to democratic principles and to tackling the most pressing challenges on the global stage.

It is with the deepest respect that we also remember that our Canadian brothers and sisters have fought alongside our men and women for decades, most recently in Afghanistan.

Yet during the last administration, this most essential alliance was too often marked by tensions and tariffs, marred by insults aimed at Canadian leaders, and neglected by an absentee U.S. ambassador.

It is imperative that we rebuild our relationship with Canada, deepen our collaboration to address the challenges posed by China and Russia, and work together to address the threats posed by climate change.

Mr. Cohen, I have no doubt that you are the right person to tackle these challenges and, upon confirmation, will be a strong and effective ambassador.

I am also pleased that we are considering the nomination of our next ambassador to Costa Rica. As it celebrates its bicentennial, Costa Rica stands out for its consistency on the global stage and leadership on environmental stewardship. Costa Rica is also an example of democratic resiliency in Central America at a time when the region is plagued by weak rule of law and leaders who have embraced authoritarian tactics.

It is also unique that we are considering a candidate whose father served as ambassador to Costa Rica under President Kennedy. I am pleased that Dr. Telles, if confirmed, will carry forward a family commitment to strengthening our partnership and advancing U.S. interests in Costa Rica.

We look forward to hearing your testimonies and let me now turn to the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch, for his opening remarks.”