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Hours after Zelenskyy Address to Congress, Senate Republicans Block Confirmation of Officials Tasked with Leading U.S. Efforts to Support Ukraine

“The junior senator from Florida…is singlehandedly undermining the ability of the United States government to respond fully to Russia’s brutal invasion… He is undercutting the U.S. government’s ability to support the Ukrainian people and our European allies.”

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today took to the Senate Floor to make a series of motions for the Senate to immediately confirm nominees to positions critical to the United States’ efforts to assist and support Ukraine in the face of Putin’s illegal and unprovoked war.

Republican Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) blocked Chairman Menendez’s efforts for the Senate to confirm Jim O’Brien to be Coordinator for Sanctions; Julieta Valls Noyes to be Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Eliot Kang to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Non-Proliferation.  These positions have been slow walked by Republicans despite the growing crisis in Europe.  Senator Scott’s objection came hours after Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelenskyy pleaded for additional support from the United States.

“It is amazing to me. My colleagues who got up to applaud President Zelenskyy. My colleagues who come to the Senate Floor to talk about both the need to help Ukraine and the humanitarian realities that are compounding every day,” said Chairman Menendez. “They get up and clap and then come to the Floor to object to the very things that can help [Ukraine].”

After trying to make making extraneous excuses for his objections, Senator Scott refused to answer Chairman Menendez’s request for a colloquy to further debate the merits of his obstructionism. Added Menendez:  “My God, it is not right to hold up everything we are trying to do for Ukraine. This is a global emergency. The fate of not only Ukraine but democracy is on the line.”

Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) then blocked Menendez’s motion for the Senate to take up Erin McKee to be Assistant Administrator for Europe and Eurasia at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). He cited no reason for his objection.  

“I don’t understand how the party of Reagan…The party of ‘freedom and democracy’…The party of standing up to these people can create a set of circumstances where they are now helping Putin a the end of the day,” said Chairman Menendez.  “This really undermines our national security. It really undermines our help for the Ukrainian people…. I hope some saner minds will prevail in the days ahead when I come back to the Floor to try this again.”

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

“Mr. President, I rise today to seek unanimous consent to confirm four nominees to posts that are critical to our response to Putin’s war against Ukraine. 

Through smoke and rubble and artillery fire, Ukrainians are leaving their homes with nothing more than a backpack, nothing more than their children in hand. Over the past 20 days, Vladimir Putin’s illegal and horrific assault on Ukraine has led more than 3 million refugees to flee into neighboring countries. Those who remain are suffering from a dire and deteriorating humanitarian situation. With Putin’s army blocking aid convoys, millions of Ukrainians are facing lack of water, food, and heat.

Meanwhile, Putin orders unprovoked, unjustified attacks on civilians—shelling apartment buildings, bombing maternity hospitals, and destroying kindergartens, committing atrocities throughout the country.

The United States and the world have a duty to exact costs on Putin, to demand accountability for war crimes, and to provide aid for the millions of innocent Ukrainians who are suffering. If we want to rise to this challenge, if we want to respond to the mounting human suffering, one thing is clear: we need to have the people in place—the people the President has selected—to lead and carry out this work.

Their leadership is critical in our response to the growing crisis in Ukraine and the looming refugee crisis across Eastern Europe. They will fight to defend human rights when they are violated. They will fight to defend democracy when it is attacked. And they will make sure we maximize the pain and the price Putin pays for this heinous war.

That is why we must confirm Jim O’Brien. He is the President’s nominee for Coordinator for Sanctions. This is our most significant tool against Putin and his regime. Sanctions. This is the President’s nominee for Coordinator for Sanctions. Once confirmed, he will enhance the Biden administration’s efforts with our allies and partners to impose devastating costs on Russia.

To date, more than 30 nations have joined this cause. Countries have stepped up that we never would have expected. But the fight is not over. We must keep up the pressure. We must keep up the coordination. And we must ensure that we are implementing and enforcing sanctions in concert with dozens of countries around the globe.

I know my Republican colleagues agree that this must be a top priority. I have heard it on the Foreign Relations Committee: ‘we need to do more sanctions.’ I have heard it on the Senate Floor. I have heard it in conversations with my colleagues: ‘we need to even do more.’

I know they want our sanctions to be as effective as possible. So to them I say, confirm Jim O’Brien. Today. 

Mr. President, I can also give you three million reasons why we must confirm Julieta Valls Noyes, the nominee to be Assistant Secretary for the Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration because three million people have already fled their homes in Ukraine. Three million people have left a war-torn country with their dreams shattered, their children traumatized. Three million people who have no idea of what the future holds. And even as I speak, that number has surely been surpassed.

There is a reason we have the Population, Refugees, and Migration Bureau. There is a reason the President selects a qualified nominee to lead it. Ms. Noyes is that person.

It is a travesty that Ms. Noyes’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor for 148 days because of Republican holds. We need a Senate-confirmed leader in place to take charge of the U.S. response to the refugee crisis forming in Europe, as well as the crises that already exist around the world.

We need someone to work alongside our European allies as they face the fastest growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. We need her confirmed today. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today.

The humanitarian crisis inside Ukraine is worsening every day. We can all see it for ourselves. You can see the images of Mariupol, where more than 200,000 civilians remain under siege, cut off from food, fighting for their lives. You can see the frightened faces of children, crossing the border into Poland, carrying only a teddy bear and a change of clothes. This is a trauma they will struggle with for the rest of their lives.

So it baffles me that we would wait another hour, let alone another day, to even think about confirming Ambassador Erin McKee as Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia at USAID. The minute she gets in the door, the minute we send her to USAID, she will get to work on behalf of the millions of Ukrainians who are suffering.

She will make sure that we are meeting basic needs, that we are helping Ukraine’s neighbors shoulder the burden of this crisis. Let her get to work. Let her help the people of Ukraine. Today.

Finally, there is the danger Putin will unleash a chemical weapons attack against Ukraine. The bureau of International Security and Non-Proliferation (ISN) has a crucial role to play here. Not just to prevent the spread of chemical weapons but to help safeguard all nuclear materials and facilities in Ukraine.

To do this, the nominee to be Assistant Secretary for that bureau – International Security and Non-Proliferation – Dr. Eliot Kang, would work with the Ukrainian government, our allies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But because of Republican delays he has not yet been confirmed, despite the fact that he was nominated 328 days ago.

Think about that—that was almost a year ago—and he has not yet been confirmed.

Mr. President, because we cannot wait, because the people of Ukraine cannot wait, I rise to seek unanimous consent for the confirmation of these four nominees. Each of them moved through the Foreign Relations Committee with bipartisan support. There is no reason for Republicans to block their confirmation.

The situation in Ukraine is dire and our national security demands it.”