WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s full Committee hearing to review the State Department’s FY 2023 budget request. Testifying before the Committee was Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“As we look around the world from Cuba to Mali to Iran to China, and of course Russia, authoritarians are crushing free speech, arresting dissidents, utilizing technology to control their citizens, relying on mercenaries and illicit weapons to target innocent civilians and topple governments. This is a confrontation between violent autocrats and those of us fighting for a rules-based international order, for democracy, human rights, and the cause of freedom around the world,” Chairman Menendez said. “Our diplomats and development professionals – and our budget for these efforts, which we are examining today – are our front lines in this fight.”
Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.
“This hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will come to order.
Mr. Secretary – welcome back to the Committee. We appreciate you being here with us today.
As we look around the world from Cuba to Mali to Iran to China, and of course Russia, authoritarians are crushing free speech, arresting dissidents, utilizing technology to control their citizens, relying on mercenaries and illicit weapons to target innocent civilians and topple governments. This is a confrontation between violent autocrats and those of us fighting for a rules-based international order, for democracy, human rights, and the cause of freedom around the world.
Our diplomats and development professionals – and our budget for these efforts, which we are examining today – are our front lines in this fight.
With that in mind, I would like to take a moment to highlight some of our most pressing areas of concern.
I am sure members on both sides will want to talk about these and others.
In Europe we must ‘maintain absolute unity’ as President Biden has said. And I believe your recent trip to Kiev with Secretary Austin to show support for President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people, and to continue shining a light on the Russian military’s brazen abuse of civilians that certainly amount to war crimes, was a critical display of that unity. We salute you for that visit.
More broadly, this means countering Russian aggression with security assistance that aligns with our foreign policy, combatting disinformation and election interference, delivering humanitarian relief, and helping neighboring countries with a huge influx of Ukrainian refugees fleeing violence.
We have a responsibility to the American people and to Ukrainians themselves to ensure we are effectively spending the $13.6 billion dollar package Congress approved in March.
With only a minor increase in Foreign Military Financing funds, I would like to hear the Administration’s plans for countries in NATO’s Eastern Flank – and for Taiwan, which is facing a similar threat from China.
Whether it is Japan, South Korea or Australia, when it comes to countering China, a strong alliance with our partners is vital.
Xi Jinping’s hyper-nationalism is more assertive around the globe than ever before.
The State Department must work on a pragmatic appraisal of how to best combat China’s predatory economic and trade practices so we have the ability to out-compete China in the generation ahead; bilaterally and through robust presence and action in regional and international institutions.
Authoritarianism also threatens Latin America and the Caribbean, a part of the world hit hard by the COVID pandemic.
From Cuba to Venezuela and even Nicaragua – we’re seeing arbitrary detentions, the dismantling of civil society, and the weaponization of hunger and migration—all as Maduro carries out systematic extrajudicial executions.
On top of this, an epidemic of criminal violence stretching from Mexico to Haiti to El Salvador is fueling a serious refugee and migration crisis. The Americas now host more than 18.4 million displaced people.
This budget is a good down payment, but more will be needed to address these challenges across the hemisphere.
Countering authoritarianism also requires serious investment across Africa where Moscow has reasserted itself over the past several years, and democracy seems on the retreat.
Civilians from the Central African Republic to Mali have paid a heavy price with Russian Wagner mercenaries reportedly committing human rights abuses.
And despite concerted diplomatic efforts by the Administration, the democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian and Sudanese people have yet to be realized.
Looking further north, I am also expecting an update on what is happening with the JCPOA and negotiations with Iran. We were told that the end of February was the date in which we needed to conclude an agreement. It is going to be the end of April. We look forward to hearing about that as well as Iran’s malign actions across the region.
I am pleased that the security of our important ally Israel is fully funded in this request. And I am supportive of the funding request for Jordan. But I am concerned by cuts to security assistance in Iraq as we transition away from combat operations to bilateral diplomacy.
In Tunisia, we would love to hear a strategy confronting democratic backsliding.
And in South and Central Asia we need clarity on whether the Administration will waive CAATSA sanctions for India’s purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, and what role, if so, they are going to continue to play in the Quad.
Also, in the wake of the Taliban’s broken promise to allow girls to attend secondary school, their media crackdown and the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, we need a better sense of the Administration’s diplomatic strategy.
Around the globe today, we are facing multiple humanitarian challenges: refugee crises on several continents and one of the worst food insecurity crises we have seen in a generation.
Considering all this, I do not think the Administration’s budget request to address humanitarian and resettlement needs reflects current global realities.
The United States must elevate the needs of women, girls, and other at-risk populations. We must document war crimes.
Added to this, climate change is a force multiplier which will exacerbate humanitarian crises and conflicts around the world.
It requires us to rethink how we prepare for the future, from the energy security crisis in Europe and Ukraine, to increasing sea levels, severe weather, and drought, including working multilaterally to help partner countries advance clean, sustainable energy solutions.
We must also think about how to better prevent, detect and respond to future pandemics.
I want to applaud the State Department’s push to modernize and increase diversity by adding paid internships, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers across foreign affairs’ agencies, and equity strategies in our overseas policies and programs, including the Department’s high-level representative on Racial Equity.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has also taken steps to join in this effort.
Finally, I’d also like to congratulate the Department on launching the Bureau of Cyberspace and Digital Policy, which will be essential in our diplomacy on cyber and technology issues.
There is a lot here to discuss Mr. Secretary. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on how you see the State Department tackling the issues and challenges we face as a nation.
I certainly want to say that we appreciate your service to our country.
With that, let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member, Senator Risch, for his opening remarks.”