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Senator Menendez Opening Remarks at SFRC Hearing with Secretary Pompeo

“I am disappointed to be having what I feel like is a recurring bad dream: this Administration submits a budget request that demonstrates either no understanding of the value of U.S. diplomacy and foreign engagement, or has an active desire to see us retreat from the global stage and cede ground to our adversaries.”

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing this morning with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the Trump Administration’s FY 2020 State Department Budget Request.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Welcome, Mr. Secretary, back to the committee. We appreciate you being here.

It is something of a cliché to say at hearings like this that we meet at a critical juncture or a consequential time for America in the world.

But never in my nearly three decades of service in Congress have I seen such a confluence of complicated challenges: Russia, China, North Korea, Afghanistan, climate change, rising authoritarianism, Saudi Arabia, migration crises in Central America, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

None of these are easy. Nor are they all of our making. But, with all due respect Mr. Secretary, thus far the Trump administration has not demonstrated a deep understanding of—or capacity required—to meet these challenges.

Confronting China is not the same thing as being competitive with China. Squandering alliances and alienating partners while cozying up to dictators is not prudent at precisely the time when we need like-minded, democratic, freedom-loving, friends to confront a rising China, a revisionist Russia, or an emboldened Iran.

Threatening to cut funding that supports the institutional capacity of our partners in Central America to deal with the root causes of migration, including grinding poverty and the violence of MS13, is not an effective way to manage that challenge.

Undermining unity at the World Trade Organization is a bizarre strategy at a time when it should be clear that China, not the United States, is the outlier in international economic architecture.

Haranguing partners about the dangers of Huawei’s 5G architecture—a concern that I share—is not a successful approach to develop a consortium of like-minded partners to develop a safe and cost-efficient alternative.

Failing to develop a diplomatic strategy to support peace in Mali or the Sahel more broadly while jihadist and ethnic militia attacks have cost more than 2,000 lives in the last five months alone leaves us vulnerable to global terrorism.

And, in Saudi Arabia, the administration’s violation of the global Magnitsky law, failing to respond to my request for a determination under the law, as to the complicity of the crown prince, sends a global message to authoritarians that you can kill and violate human rights with impunity.

So I am disappointed to be having what I feel like is a recurring bad dream: this Administration submits a budget request that demonstrates either no understanding of the value of U.S. diplomacy and foreign engagement, or has an active desire to see us retreat from the global stage and cede ground to our adversaries.

I am pleased that Congress—in exercising our Constitutional prerogative as a separate and coequal branch of government—has appropriated funds that we need to secure our interests and protect our citizens abroad.

I agree with your National Security Strategy assessment that Russia poses a threat to democratic partners across Europe, yet you propose cutting those funds to support democratic institution-building.

I applaud the Administration’s continuation of the Obama-era policy ISIS strategy, working with critical partners, that has led to the expulsion of ISIS from physical territory, and am pleased that at the urging of Congress and of allies you seem to be willing to keep U.S. troops in place to help secure our interest. But as General Votel warns: ‘the fight is far from over,’ yet your budget does not contained the sustained diplomatic and development resources we need to truly combat this evil.

The world faces a truly existential crisis with climate change, and our own Defense Department continues to warn about the serious global implications of famine, migration, and conflict it may bear, yet your budget seems to pretend that the problem does not even exist.

Again, I agree with this Administration’s assessment that China presents new and evolving challenges across the Indo-Pacific and the world; challenges we must confront with a robust diplomatic and economic agenda, yet your budget proposes a cut of close to 20 percent from the FY 17 ‘actual’ budget to meet our commitments in the Indo-Pacific.

At your own Department, in Foggy Bottom, this Administration’s disdain for civil servants and the value of experienced professionals is weakening the foundational component of U.S. foreign policy—our diplomatic and development professionals.

On the matter of oversight, I would like to flag for your attention a classified matter that the Committee had a briefing on yesterday—the details of which I won’t and can’t discuss here—where we raised with the Department an important issue that had not previously been shared with us....would not in fact have been shared with us had we not raised it with you... and may have made the difference in how Senators voted on a particular matter. As I am sure you appreciate, that’s simply unacceptable. If this Committee is to be able to function—if Congress is to play its constitutionally-mandated role—your Department needs to do a better job of engaging with us, briefing us, and responding to our requests. Right now the situation is not acceptable. I would be happy to discuss this with you further in a classified setting, as would, I am sure, many of my colleagues.

When you were confirmed, Mr. Secretary, I hoped that you would be empowered and committed to promoting core American values and interests on the global stage. But we’ve seen you undermine our values with Saudi Arabia; we’ve seen maximum pressure on North Korea whittled away one tweet at a time; seen the Administration pursue illogical, misogynistic policies to play domestic reproductive rights politics for your own political ambitions on the backs of the world’s poorest women.

So as I see it, the challenge for this Committee is twofold: ensuring that Congress serves a co-equal branch on government and check on power from the White House, and helping inform the American people about why that is important. Restoring the State Department and USAID budgets is a starting point, but we must be more effective in holding the administration accountable for its foreign policy shortcomings as well, and reminding the American people about the importance of core American values like democracy, governance, and human rights as drivers of our foreign policy.

It is these fundamental values, along with America’s unparalleled strengths on the global stage, a military second to none; a vital economy driven by innovation and technological ingenuity; a reservoir of goodwill with our allies and partners; that provide us the opportunity to define a new role and a new grand strategy for the twenty-first century. 

I said earlier that I was skeptical of your administration’s ability to be equal to this moment in world history.  But, Mr. Secretary, I want you to prove me wrong.

An opportunity remains, to take hold of the moment before us, to face squarely the new challenges of this more competitive era, and to replenish our vision, reinvigorate our diplomacy, revive our partnerships, and to restore American leadership for a new era.

And I look forward to the questions to pursue that view.”