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Chairman Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s Full Committee hearing to consider the nominations of the Honorable Kenneth Lee Salazar to be Ambassador to the United Mexican States; Ms. Jessica Lewis to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Political-Military Affairs); the Honorable Donald Lu to be Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs; and the Honorable Marcela Escobari to be an Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (Latin America and the Caribbean).

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered below.

“We are here today to consider nominations for four very important positions: Secretary, former Senator, Kenneth Salazar to be Ambassador to Mexico, Ms. Jessica Lewis to be Assistant Secretary of State for Political and Military Affairs, Ambassador Donald Lu to be Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, and Ms. Marcela Escobari to be an Assistant Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Congratulations on all your nominations. I know all of you have a distinguished history of public service. We appreciate your willingness to continue to serve your country and those members of your families.

I understand that Senator Bennet and Senator Hickenlooper, our colleagues from Colorado, will be introducing Secretary Salazar this morning. So we will go to them.

Senior Senator from Colorado, Senator Bennet?

Thank you. When I’m up for nomination I want you introducing me, Senator Bennet.

Senator Hickenlooper?

Thank you, Senator Hickenlooper. I didn’t think there was much that could be added after Senator Bennet but you did a fantastic job of filling out the total picture. We know that both you have very busy agendas and you are welcome to excuse yourselves at any time.

With that, let me take a moment to introduce Ms. Jessica Lewis.

It is with a mixture of deep pride and wistfulness that we are here today considering the nomination of Ms. Lewis to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. I, like many others in both the Senate and the House, have had the good fortune of working closely with Ms. Lewis and benefitting from her exceptional wisdom, drive, and judgment. 

Ms. Lewis is recognized across party lines as one of the most effective and respected leaders on Capitol Hill, and she is a trailblazer for women in national security. Indeed, if approved by the Senate, she will be the first woman confirmed to hold this position.

You all know her as the Majority staff director of this Committee and, prior to that, as the senior national security and foreign policy advisor for then-Majority Leader Harry Reid.

What you may not know is that she came to Capitol Hill almost two decades ago to work for me as a foreign policy advisor and Staff Director of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in the House of Representatives. So we are proud of all of Jessica’s accomplishments since then.  

While it would be impossible to catalogue all of these accomplishments here, I do want to highlight her leadership, her steady hand during this past year in particular, leading the staff to an incredibly productive year, while also providing invaluable advice on the Committee’s foreign policy priorities. I have been deeply impressed, and that’s not an easy thing to do, but not at all surprised.

I’d like to highlight Ms. Lewis’ tireless dedication over her entire career to mentoring young professionals as well, elevating her colleagues, and empowering those who have not been traditionally represented in the field, are exemplary. I have no doubt she will apply herself in the same way and with equal success at the State Department.

Secretary Salazar is a friend of mine and of this Committee, and I am deeply gratified by your nomination to be Ambassador to Mexico. It is a testament to the Biden administration’s seriousness about restoring a productive and respectful relationship with the people and government of Mexico, one of the most important and expansive bilateral relationships we have.

The task ahead of you is great. You will need to continue engaging on the critical issues of trade and migration that have been central in our bilateral relationship while also engaging on the often uncomfortable issues that face both our nations, including the trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people; environmental threats; and issues of democracy, governance, and rule of law, including with respect to human rights and labor rights.           

I have no doubt that your vast experience in government, your personal ties to Mexico, and your commitment to bipartisan solutions will make you an excellent Ambassador upon your confirmation.

The Office of Political-Military Affairs for which Ms. Lewis has been nomination, is of vital importance to U.S. foreign and national security policy, and to this Committee. It is a position with immense impact for safeguarding U.S. national security and promoting and accomplishing vital U.S. foreign policy objectives.

In recent years, the Bureau’s relationship and credibility with this Committee has been strained, though it has been improving. I expect that with Ms. Lewis at the helm, the Bureau’s level of cooperation with the oversight activities of and consultation with this Committee will improve considerably, and I will put that expectation to the test.

Ambassador Lu, I’m pleased to see you back again before this Committee, this time to be the next Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, a region of critical importance and significant challenges.

Indeed, the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan will require sustained Senate oversight for how the Administration plans to mitigate the effects of the withdrawal. I, along with many members of this Committee, are especially concerned about the plight of women and minorities as the Taliban continues to gain military strength.

In addition, as the Administration evacuates the first group of Afghan SIV applicants, I continue to be concerned about the thousands of remaining Afghan SIV applicants and our Afghan human rights and democracy partners whose lives remain in grave danger from the Taliban. And, as you know, any peaceful resolution to the conflict must be regional in nature and will require the Assistant Secretary to be deeply engaged.

Our relationship with India is growing, bolstered by a vibrant Indian-American community here in the United States. I expect our diplomats to deepen this relationship while remaining true to our core values and raising concerns as necessary. In Bangladesh, I continue to advocate for labor rights and the establishment of unions to ensure that workers in every sector can work in safe conditions.

While there will be no shortage of challenges, I am confident that your knowledge and experience in the region will serve you well as you take on this role.

Ms. Escobari, your extensive experience helping countries in our hemisphere chart a path towards prosperity—including in your previous service as USAID Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean Bureau—make you exceptionally qualified for this position.

As you know, the challenges we face in the region are growing by the day. Democratic backsliding has accelerated in many countries, aggravated by the ongoing socioeconomic impact of COVID-19.

With the recent assassination in Haiti, widespread protests and regime violence in Cuba, an authoritarian crackdown in Nicaragua, a humanitarian emergency in Venezuela, and numerous challenges related to irregular migration, the Western Hemisphere today is less secure, less prosperous, and less stable than it has been in many years.

I look forward to hearing how you will work to address these challenges if confirmed.

In closing, the four of you have immense challenges ahead. I am confident that your rich experiences will serve you well as you take on your new responsibilities upon confirmation. I look forward to your testimonies. This is normally a little longer than we would take in introducing nominees but you are coming into critical positions.

Let me turn to the distinguished Ranking Member for his opening remarks.”