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Chairman Menendez Statement Before Second Panel at Committee Nominations Hearing


WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following remarks before the second panel 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 have two nominations on the second panel: our former colleague Senator Tom Udall to be Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa and Ms. Sarah Margon to be the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).

I know that Senators Heinrich and Lujan have expressed their interests in introducing Senator Udall, but they have not yet arrived. So we will wait for them. I also understand our former colleague and member of this Committee, Senator Feingold, is going to introduce Ms. Margon virtually today. Senator Feingold, welcome back to the Committee even if it is virtually. We will recognize you to give an introduction to Ms. Margon.

Thank you Senator Feingold. It is good to see you, and we appreciate your glowing recommendation of Ms. Margon.

We’ve now been joined by two of our colleagues – Senator Heinrich and Senator Lujan, who will join in introducing Senator Udall. Senator Heinrich?

Thank you. Senator Lujan?

Thank you, Senator Lujan, for the glowing recommendation of our colleague. We appreciate it and know you have other issues to attend to so do not hesitate to leave when you think it is appropriate.

I will just note as well that Congressman Malinowski from my home state of New Jersey is here with us. He had the position that Ms. Margon has been nominated for as the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). We welcome him to the Committee. Since you’re here, Congressman, we need to talk about the CASE Act and updating is so that we can actually get some information in real time these days. I look forward to working with you on that.

Let me briefly speak to these two nominees.

Senator Udall, welcome back to the Committee. You now know what it feels like to be on the other side of this questioning. We know you are going to do great. Congratulations on your nomination and to Jill as well. I am glad that President Biden selected you for this important post, and I am confident that, upon confirmation, you will represent the United States well in New Zealand and in the Independent State of Samoa.

As you know, New Zealand is one of our closest partners, a partnership that is critical in this new era of strategic competition. Now, more than ever, the United States has to pursue intense diplomatic outreach in order to support our common goals for addressing climate change, expanding economic and trade opportunities, and building security partnerships.

Climate change is one of the most pressing national security challenges of our time and it poses a significant threat to Pacific Island nations.

Overall, I believe we need to reinvigorate our diplomatic presence and outreach to New Zealand and Samoa, and I am confident that you will be very well up to that task. I look forward to hearing your goals for how we can deepen one of the closest diplomatic relationships we have even further.

Ms. Margon, congratulations on your nomination to DRL. 

You have extensive experience working to advance human rights and democratic values as well as support from a bipartisan group of national security leaders, human rights and civil society organizations, including prominent Jewish organizations who believe in the importance of the U.S.-Israeli partnership and the importance of a two state solution for ensuring Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state. But I also know there have been questions about some of the nuances here, and I trust you’ll be able to answer those questions.

The need for strong, effective leadership at the helm of DRL has never been more necessary. In every region of the world today, authoritarian governments are seizing more and more power, dismantling core democratic institutions, and closing in on journalists and civil society.

Today, Beijing, Moscow, and their kleptocratic partners are driving global authoritarian expansion. They do this through increasingly sophisticated digital authoritarian surveillance and control tools – on which we put a very significant report from this Committee – and through old-fashioned arrests of peaceful protestors and shutting down independent media.

To that end, we witnessed this summer the Cuban regime unleash a brutal waive of repression in response to unprecedented protests by the Cuban people. 

While the Trump administration took a wrecking ball to our reputation, the Biden administration is doing vital work to reassert the U.S. role in championing democracy and human rights around the globe. That effort, however, was badly damaged this summer by the flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan and the unfolding human rights catastrophe.

From Burma to Ethiopia, the amount of human rights concerns around the world is vast. We understand that, at times, the United States faces hard choices where foreign policy and national security interests do not align neatly with the values we strive to reflect as a nation. Upon occasion, this is unavoidable. But, we also know that the organizational structure at the State Department has allowed a culture to flourish in which human rights concerns get less traction because the powerful regional bureaus frequently sideline DRL.

I look forward to hearing from you about how, if confirmed, you will work to re-center our foreign policy around the core American values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. This will advance U.S. national interests and the cause of freedom and human dignity that rightly belongs to all people everywhere.

I’ll just close by saying today we had a breakfast meeting with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson. In that conversation, one of the things that he said that I thought was so poignant for our other colleagues to hear was how important it was for the United States to raise the principles of democracy and human rights and what it means to the rest of the world to do so. So this is an incredibly important position.

I know that the Ranking Member has opening remarks as they relate to these nominees, and when he returns I will recognize him – he is voting right now. In the interest of expediting this process, let me turn to Senator Udall first for his opening statement. I ask you both to try to summarize your statements in about five minutes. Your full statements will be included in the record without objection.

With that, Senator Udall, the floor is yours.”