WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 13 Democratic Senators sent a letter to Vice President Pence expressing concern about the Administration’s policy towards the Western Hemisphere, and urging him to adopt an “Americas together” policy in lieu of the divisive “America First” policy at the 2018 Summit of Americas.
Joining Menendez in sending the letter were Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Chris Coons (D-Del.).
“The United States urgently needs a coherent approach to the region to reverse the damage of the past year. The President’s derogatory comments that Mexican immigrants are ‘rapists’ and that Haiti is a ‘shithole’ country, were not only false, but also damaging to critical relationships we need to promote our own national interests. Equally harmful were this Administration’s overtly political decisions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti,” wrote the Senators. “The impact of this Administration’s approach is clear: American leadership is eroding in the Western Hemisphere.”
The Senators called for a more proactive and respectful engagement in the Americas. They also noted Congress had in a bipartisan manner rejected the President’s cuts to foreign assistance programs in the region and encouraged the Administration to strengthen our diplomatic standing in order to stop ceding our regional leadership to China and Russia. The Senators concluded by urging the Vice President to embrace a new vision that engages our neighbors in a respectful manner, and builds on our shared values.
A copy of the letter can be found below.
The Honorable Michael R. Pence
Vice President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Dear Vice President Pence:
We write in advance of your participation in the Summit of the Americas to strongly encourage you to use this trip to revise the Administration’s approach to the region, rebuild critical relationships, and invest in diplomacy and development. We are concerned that the Administration’s policy towards the Americas is undermining decades of bipartisan efforts to build strong partnerships with our neighbors that advance shared interests of democracy, security, economic prosperity, and human rights.
The countries of the Western Hemisphere share historical and cultural ties made stronger by the millions of immigrants from the region living in the United States. Our economies are inextricably linked; we export over five times more goods to the Americas than to China. And more so than anywhere else in the world, the region’s challenges directly affect the security of our nation. Whether it is drugs entering through the 7,500 miles of border with Canada and Mexico or Central American and Venezuelan migrants fleeing the conditions in their home countries, regional problems do not stop at the border and there is no wall high enough to keep them out.
The United States urgently needs a coherent approach to the region to reverse the damage of the past year. The President’s derogatory comments that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” and that Haiti is a “shithole” country, were not only false, but also damaging to critical relationships we need to promote our own national interests. Equally harmful were this Administration’s overtly political decisions to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designations for Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti. These decisions have the potential to further destabilize the region and negatively affect U.S. national security by forcibly repatriating hundreds of thousands of people to fragile countries overwhelmed by high rates of violence and poverty. We are further alienated from the region when President Trump demands that Mexico pay for a border wall, brags about lying to the Canadian Prime Minister, and deploys National Guard troops to our border.
While the Administration has highlighted the challenges related to transnational organized crime and drug trafficking, it has repeatedly proposed deep cuts to foreign assistance that undermine our ability to address these issues and put our national security and our citizens at risk. The President’s proposed budget cuts have also reduced our support for democracy and human rights in Cuba, Honduras, and Nicaragua – damaging our ability to advance fundamental U.S. values. In Venezuela, the hemisphere’s biggest crisis, the Executive has correctly made use of targeted sanctions, but has failed to engage in a timely manner to address the country’s political, economic, and refugee challenges. We need a comprehensive strategy in Venezuela, which is why there is bipartisan support for coordinating an international response to this growing humanitarian crisis.
The impact of this Administration’s approach is clear: American leadership is eroding in the Western Hemisphere. In 2017, U.S. approval ratings plummeted in every country in the region, placing us behind China, and making it more difficult for us to advance our objectives by raising the political cost of cooperating with the United States. While U.S. leadership recedes, China and Russia are filling the void. China is now the first or second most important trading partner to Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. Russia is deepening its ties with Cuba and Venezuela, and according to former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, meddling in presidential elections throughout the region.
The first step in recovering our leadership is a more proactive and respectful engagement. In a bipartisan manner, Congress rejected the President’s cuts to foreign assistance programs in order to ensure that the United States has the necessary funding to advance opportunities and address challenges in the region. We urge the Administration to use this funding to promote our security and democratic values, and also to nominate qualified candidates for key positions in the hemisphere so that we can strengthen our diplomatic standing and stop ceding our regional leadership to China and Russia. Additionally, we encourage the Executive to pursue a reinvigorated policy of commercial diplomacy to deepen our economic ties and continue to improve our competitiveness in the Western Hemisphere.
While we understand that the situation in Syria requires President Trump’s attention, his decision to not attend the Summit of the Americas is a missed opportunity to repair relations with regional leaders. We strongly encourage you to abandon the divisive “America First” policy at the Summit of the Americas and embrace instead an “Americas together” policy that will advance our strategic interests in the Western Hemisphere, engage our neighbors in a respectful manner, and build on our shared values. Recent statements from Mexican President Pena-Nieto reflected a growing consensus from leaders in the region that the United States must urgently reestablish diplomatic norms of conduct between neighbors and friends. We hope you will use this as an opportunity to do so and look forward to working with you to advance these objectives.