WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today led a series of Senate floor speeches by Democratic members of the Committee to discuss their concerns with President Trump’s foreign policy including the mass exodus of expertise from the State Department, the failure to nominate individuals for dozens of senior State Department positions and the willful paralysis in responding to Russian aggression and election meddling.
Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“I rise today to bring attention to this Administration’s chaotic and incoherent approach to foreign policy. An approach that has left our allies confused and our adversaries emboldened, and undermined the United States standing on the global stage.
“To be fair, the President’s own National Security Strategy echoes decades of bipartisan recognition that the founding values of the United States– democracy, the rule of law – should continue to drive our foreign policy.
“Yet the President himself has shown a fundamental disrespect for these very principles, declining to publicly champion the importance of human rights and good governance, and refusing to condemn dictators around the world who brutally repress their own citizens, sow instability across the world, or even those who attack the United States – something I fear will ultimately weaken our ability to promote the security and prosperity of all Americans.
“Last week’s unceremonious firing of our nation’s top diplomat was the President’s latest and brazen example of disrespect for the role of diplomacy, diplomats, and of the State Department itself. While I had my differences with Secretary Tillerson, the reality is it does not serve the interests of the United States when the President undermines his top diplomat on major foreign policy initiatives, from the crisis in the Gulf to – ironically – his outreach to the North Koreans.
“Secretary Tillerson’s legacy will be shaped not just by the President’s misguided efforts, but also his own ill-advised attempts to dismantle the State Department, leaving the United States without key voices to advance our interests around the world. The Administration has failed to nominate critical high level positions -- Under Secretaries, Assistant Secretaries -- leaving a void of empowered voices.
“Meanwhile, there are gaping vacancies in embassies in some of the world’s most troubled regions. For example, as we confront a nuclear-armed North Korea, the President has yet to nominate an Ambassador to South Korea, our critical ally on the Peninsula, one who has historically relied upon American assurances and allegiance.
“Similarly, the President took more than a year to nominate an Assistant Secretary for East Asia-Pacific Affairs. The impact of these vacancies was on full display last week when the President – without the knowledge of his top diplomat – announced a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, an assertion that was then alternately walked back and modified by his Secretary of Defense and his White House Press Secretary.
“In the Middle East, as the President continues to send more and more American troops and we face an emboldened Iranian regime creeping further into Syria -- facilitated by the Kremlin’s military support -- he has yet to appoint Ambassadors to consequential posts. To Saudi Arabia, to Egypt, to Qatar, to Turkey, to Jordan – which has proved a critical partner in our fight against terrorism in the region and in supporting refugees -- two essential components of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
“How can we possibly expect to assert American leadership and secure our interests with these posts unfilled, with no empowered individuals at the Department itself?
“Under the President’s watch, the number of career ambassadors – the State Department equivalent to four-star generals at the Department of Defense – has plummeted by sixty percent! If we were shedding four-star generals this quickly, we would be sounding the alarm of a national security crisis.
“We have just one career-level ambassador left at the State Department. Let me say that again: one career Ambassador left. And this Administration has seen fit to ship him off to an academic institution, rather than engage him in frontline diplomacy.
We’re witnessing a mass exodus of experienced diplomatic and security professionals who have dedicated their lives to this country.
“This is a forced exodus and I am deeply alarmed to see reports revealing what we have feared for some time. We are just starting to learn about disturbing efforts to purge the Broadcasting Board of Governors and impose a partisan editorial voice on U.S. international media.
“Alarmingly, last week, press reports highlighted emails that provided concrete evidence of the Administration’s efforts to effectively purge the Department of anyone they do not believe would be a purist for the President’s vision. Emails showed political leadership describing some civil servants as ‘turncoats’, ‘leakers and troublemakers’.
“The conversations showed senior political appointees working with outside organizations engaged in vicious smear-campaigns against career civil servants, and dismissing death threats against some of these same career officials.
“Diplomats who have served Republican Presidents and Democrat Presidents alike – who have spent their careers working to build a more prosperous and secure world so that a Commander in Chief would not have to send our sons and daughters into war.
“This is America. Our government functions because of apolitical civil servants across agencies who dedicate their lives to advancing the interests of their fellow citizens – from distributing social security checks to negotiating nuclear arms treaties. It is outrageous. It is disgraceful. It is dangerous.
“We face challenges from every corner of the globe. We simply cannot confront them if we are not present. And we cannot overcome these challenges when the President himself does not acknowledge them.
“As China’s political leadership consolidates power, and as the country expands into the South China Sea and pursues an aggressive economic agenda around the world, the President, for his part, praises these dictatorial moves – meanwhile, he’s failed to deliver on his promises for better trade deals.
“In Latin America, while our President calls our neighbors to the South drug traffickers, criminals, and rapists, China is expanding its economic and cultural presence in our own backyard. In Mexico, one of our most integral bilateral partners, we will soon lose our ambassador as we hear about how the Russian government is seeking to interfere in their upcoming elections!
“And when it comes to Russia, again and again, the President’s own intelligence officials have made clear that the Russian government not only meddled in our election in 2016, but continues its interference in the American political system to this day.
Yet the President refuses to condemn Vladimir Putin or impose Congressionally-mandated sanctions to hold them accountable for their attack on the United States.
“The Russian government continues its military aggression in Ukraine and its disinformation campaigns across Europe. In the Middle East, it continues to enable Bashar Al-Assad’s slaughter of innocent civilians, and Iran’s efforts to expand its presence and threaten Israel. And in a brazen move, this month, the Kremlin used an unlawful chemical agent to commit murder on British soil, showing how far they will go when they are unchecked.
“Beyond these great power threats, we must also confront non-state actors and new tools designed specifically to destabilize free and democratic societies.
“We must demand more information to learn more about Cambridge Analytica and the efforts of this organization to exploit private information from social media users across the world to promote particular political agendas.
“The only way to confront old and emerging threats is to stand united with our allies. We have spent decades building these alliances based on mutual respect, accountability, and vigorous engagement in the international institutions and security agreements essential to promoting peace and security around the world.
“And we ourselves must be a reliable ally and partner. We must speak with an authoritative voice. We must have our national security agencies executing clear, integrated, coherent strategies.
“And the President himself must champion the fundamental ideas that have made America secure and prosperous -- democracy, human rights, free expression – values we champion not just because they are right, but because they are strategic.
“We stand for these values because globally governments that uphold the rule of law, that respect human rights and freedom of expression, that welcome economic competition - these are the nations that form America’s most reliable allies, most prosperous economic partners, and most strategic security relationships.
“The American people and the institutions we’ve built remain resilient. Now more than ever, Congress must exercise its role as a co-equal branch of government when it comes to our foreign policy. We need Republicans and Democrats in Congress to uphold our duty to conduct oversight, to ensure that bipartisan values that have guided American foreign policy for decades can be executed by an experienced, empowered, fully-funded and fully-staffed State Department.
“Together, we must ensure that our reputation as a leader of nations is not eroded by a President and an Administration who thus far, in my view, far from putting America first, threatens to leave America isolated and behind.”