Menendez Announces Opposition to Pompeo Nomination During Think Tank Speech on Defending American Values at Home and Abroad
“I believe our nation’s top diplomat must be forthright, and, more critically,[Director Pompeo’s] past sentiments do not reflect our nation’s values, and are not acceptable for our nation’s top diplomat. The American people deserve better.”“Even in my private conversations with him, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea. Now I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open but I do expect for someone who is the nominee to be Secretary of State, when he speaks with committee l
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke this morning at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). In outlining the role of Congress in both promoting America’s interests abroad and conducting effective oversight of the Trump Administration’s impulse-driven foreign policy approach, Menendez announced he would vote against the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State.
“During his confirmation hearing last week, I was pleased to hear Director Pompeo pledge support for the mission and personnel of the Department. But let’s be clear: this is a minimum declaration we should expect from any Secretary. More broadly, Director Pompeo did little to assuage my concerns about the Administration’s deafening lack of strategic vision for any of our major global challenges.
“When I and others repeatedly pressed him to outline specific policies to counter Syrian, Russian and Turkish efforts in Syria, he gave me a series of goals. When I asked what the Administration’s plan was for unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran deal, and whether it was in our national security interests, he again offered a series of goals but no strategy on how to achieve them.
“While Director Pompeo was certainly constrained by the Administration’s lack of vision, his own personal record is deeply troubling. Past statements indicate he has a preference for military action before exhausting diplomacy. Furthermore, he was unable to satisfactorily explain or express contrition for some of the more egregious statements he made as a member of Congress about Muslims, or defend his positions denying women and LGBTQ individual’s fundamental human rights. Finally, after committing to transparency in his opening statement, he was not forthcoming when I questioned him about his involvement in the Russia investigation.
“Even in my private conversations with him, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea. Now I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open but I do expect for someone who is the nominee to be Secretary of State, when he speaks with committee leadership and is asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit.
“I believe our nation’s top diplomat must be forthright, and, more critically, his past sentiments do not reflect our nation’s values, and are not acceptable for our nation’s top diplomat. The American people deserve better.
“That is why, after carefully considering his nomination hearing and reviewing responses to questions I submitted for the record, I will be casting a ‘no’ vote for Director Pompeo to serve as our Secretary of State.”
Below are Senator Menendez’s full remarks as prepared for delivery (video of Menendez’s speech and follow-up Q & A is available here):
“Thank you, John. I’m glad to be back at CSIS once again discussing the role of the United States in the world. We come together today at time when the principles America has long championed around the globe – the rule of law, good governance, democratic institutions – are under assault here at home.
It is in times like these that a robust civil society – including institutions like yours – are more essential than ever.
That CSIS was founded amid the uncertainty of the Cold War underscores the value of bringing experts from government, defense, and academia together to develop solutions to our most confounding challenges. And indeed, as we look inward and abroad, we see extraordinary challenges both new and old from every corner of the world.
Today, I would like to highlight some of my most immediate concerns. How I believe the Trump Administration is or is not responding, and the role of Congress in both promoting America’s foreign policy interests and conducting effective oversight of the Executive branch.
We are living the Chinese curse. These are interesting times to say the least. And I would say challenging times as well. Never before in my more than two and half decades in Congress have I been so concerned by a confluence of events at home and abroad, putting us on the precipice of a world in chaos.
Make no mistake: The United States has triumphed in the face of tremendous adversity before. What’s uniquely concerning about this moment, however, is that the Trump Administration does not appreciate America’s role as the bulwark against a world in crisis. Instead, we see the Trump Administration undermining the very values and institutions that make the United States a leader,
a nation that works with our partners to build peace, stability, security and prosperity around the globe.
As we face encroaching chaos, the Administration has failed its most basic duty: to use our resources to develop strategies to safeguard national security and to address the myriad crises we confront.
At Director Pompeo’s confirmation hearing last week I asked, in the face of multiple and conflicting statements from the Director on various policy issues “which Mike Pompeo am I being asked to confirm”?
Combined with John Bolton starting as the President’s new National Security Advisor, I think that there is perhaps an even more basic question in the face of the strategic chaos and whiplash of the Trump Administration: Which America – what America – do we wish to be on the global stage?
Most immediately -- while I strongly believe the United States should lead the international community in holding Assad accountable for his brutal attacks on civilians -- this past weekend’s strikes against Syria do not constitute a strategy.
This crisis is not new; what started as a democratic uprising has grown into a full-fledged conflict of epic great-power proportions – clearing a path for the expansion of Iran’s revisionist proxy and terrorist networks, bolstered by a manipulative Vladimir Putin, and creating a devastating and massive humanitarian crisis that has spilled into neighboring regions.
Of course this failure of strategic vision has been most evident regarding Russia. Just yesterday we saw the President reverse U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that the United States would sanction Russian entities that supported Assad’s recent chemical weapons attack, with Administration officials subsequently blaming Haley’s ‘momentary confusion’.
Well I have been confused for more than a year. We have witnessed interference in our democratic institutions, an attack on Ukrainian sovereignty, brazen chemical attacks on foreign soil, support for a murderous regime in Syria, allowing for the expansion of Iranian terrorism, infiltrations into our energy grid and other critical infrastructure, the systematic transfer of assets to a select group of hand-picked oligarchs, and someone who seeks to be Czar more than President.
These activities reveal an intentional effort to sow instability using a combination of 21st century disinformation campaigns and old-fashioned military aggression. Yet the President refuses – outright refuses – to clearly and unequivocally condemn Putin’s actions – including those that undermine American democracy. While he calls a court-granted search warrant an ‘attack on what we stand for’, he refuses to address the Russian governments attack on our democracy. Inexplicable.
The Administration has taken limited actions targeting some of those in Putin’s inner circle, but the president’s equivocation and his administration’s lack of comprehensive strategy is unacceptable, and it is dangerous to both the United States and our allies.
Turning to Asia, it’s quite a time to be alive when the President of the United States refuses to condemn Vladimir Putin but announces on a whim that he would be happy to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. A meeting is not a strategy. An empowered, experienced and capable diplomatic corps and intense preparation are essential to any hopes for a successful outcome of negotiations with North Korea. I worry about a reality TV show attitude that declares we’ve solved this when we know that’s far from the case.
We all recognize that a nuclear-armed North Korea has put the Asia-Pacific region on edge, but China’s rise has also created anxiety in the region. With Xi Jinping declaring himself president for life, a crack-down on civil society and human rights, and China advancing militarily in the South China Sea and economically in Africa and the Western Hemisphere, we face an evolving strategic challenge from an emboldened China.
Securing America’s long-term prosperity amid this competition will require creativity, strategic leadership, and bold investments in our own economic competitiveness, as well as robust support for the rules-based economy and international order. But I think we can all agree that praising dictatorial tendencies, imposing erratic trade policies, and publicly chastising key allies like South Korea accomplishes none of those things.
In our own hemisphere, untold despair and unrest has edged Venezuela ever-closer to becoming a failed-state, with a brewing refugee crisis of catastrophic magnitude.
Clearly, the world is rife with many threats and challenges. But never before has the United States been so ill-equipped to address them. To call this Administration’s approach to foreign policy chaotic and incoherent does not do it justice. The absence of a coherent strategy is dangerous. As my friend Leon Panetta said, leadership in disarray cannot lead a world in disarray.
For the past 15 months the President and his top diplomat systematically gutted and demoralized the agency primarily responsible for projecting American power, American values, and American interests around the world. Of 163 senior leadership positions at the State Department requiring Senate confirmation, the Administration has failed to nominate candidates for 65.
We’ve seen a forced exodus of experienced diplomats and career public servants. We have just one career level ambassador left, who the Administration has shipped off to academia. And the rest of the building seems to be faring no better.
Beyond the lack of nominees for high-level positions including Ambassadors to Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey to name a few, as well as Assistant Secretaries for the Western Hemisphere and Near Eastern Affairs, the misguided and erratic ‘reorganization’ created a vacuum of leadership and devastated morale not just in Foggy Bottom but in posts worldwide.
The President’s fundamental disregard for the value of diplomacy and the mission of the State Department was most recently on display with his unceremonious dismissal of Secretary Tillerson. Or reports of politically motivated firings of career civil servants – diplomats who have served Republican and Democratic administrations alike on behalf of the American people and in pursuit of American interests. Reports which I, along with some of my colleagues in the House have called for the Inspector General to investigate.
The next Secretary of State will thus inherit an emaciated State Department with a hollowed-out diplomatic corps that is less capable of advancing our interests abroad.
During his confirmation hearing last week, I was pleased to hear Director Pompeo pledge support for the mission and personnel of the Department. But let’s be clear: this is a minimum declaration we should expect from any Secretary. More broadly, Director Pompeo did little to assuage my concerns about the Administration’s deafening lack of strategic vision for any of our major global challenges.
When I and others repeatedly pressed him to outline specific policies to counter Syrian, Russian and Turkish efforts in Syria, he gave me a series of goals. When I asked what the Administration’s plan was for unilaterally withdrawing from the Iran deal, and whether it was in our national security interests, he again offered a series of goals but no strategy on how to achieve them.
While Director Pompeo was certainly constrained by the Administration’s lack of vision, his own personal record is deeply troubling. Past statements indicate he has a preference for military action before exhausting diplomacy. Furthermore, he was unable to satisfactorily explain or express contrition for some of the more egregious statements he made as a member of Congress about Muslims, or defend his positions denying women and LGBTQ individual’s fundamental human rights. Finally, after committing to transparency in his opening statement, he was not forthcoming when I questioned him about his involvement in the Russia investigation.
And I can tell you, even in my private conversations with him, he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea. Now I don’t expect diplomacy to be negotiated out in the open but I do expect for someone who is the nominee to be Secretary of State, when he speaks with committee leadership and is asked specific questions about North Korea, to share some insights about such a visit.
I believe our nation’s top diplomat must be forthright, and, more critically, his past sentiments do not reflect our nation’s values, and are not acceptable for our nation’s top diplomat. The American people deserve better.
Which is why, after carefully considering his nomination hearing and reviewing responses to questions I submitted for the record, I will be casting a no vote for Director Pompeo to serve as our Secretary of State.
We need a Secretary in whom the American people and our allies can vest our faith our trust, who understands the complexities of the threats we face. We are living in a time when old powers are asserting themselves with new tools… Tools we must master, refine, and learn how to confront.
While our nuclear posture and superior military establish our security and place in the world, our enemies are deploying new, more nimble tactics. Disinformation campaigns, covert influence, cyber warfare, systematic infiltration and manipulation of the very democratic societies that define who we are. They do not do this just with sticks. They do it with soft power. Our adversaries are using soft power diplomacy and sharp power tactics to gain influence and undermine American leadership. Simply put: the time is now to invest in these tools and in the skilled, experienced, empowered diplomats who know how to wield them.
We know that we cannot confront our myriad challenges around the world if we are not present around the world. But presence is just part of the equation; presence does not equal leadership. President Trump’s campaign pledge of ‘America first’ has translated into a chaotic and incoherent U.S. foreign policy that leaves America isolated.
The President sends confusing messages, often at odds with his national security advisors. I cannot tell you how often visiting foreign dignitaries tell me that they don’t know who to listen to in the Administration or who is empowered to delivered real policy guidance. The mixed messages are staggering.
While his own intelligence community confirms that Russia interfered in our 2016 election and warns of continued interference this November, the President refuses to condemn these actions. From my perspective, whether or not Russia succeeded in affecting the election is not the question. The question is whether or not they even attempted to do so, and that should affect everyone from the most humble citizen to the President of the United States.
While his top military officials, unto whom he has vested so much power, insist that remaining in the Iran nuclear deal is in our national interests, the President talks about tearing it up. And just last month the President of the United States of America was caught on tape boasting and laughing about lying to the Prime Minister of Canada. Canada!
And while I was pleased to see the Administration recently sanction Russian oligarchs, we still need a comprehensive strategy to counter Russian aggression, and for the President to fully implement the law. They simply don’t have one, as most recently evidenced by the President walking back UN Ambassador’s Haley’s announcement of pending sanctions.
We must show our allies we are serious about addressing common threats. The transatlantic alliance has been a pillar of peace and stability in the post-World War II international order. The President of the United States must vigorously defend it, embrace it, and promote it.
Likewise, as a Latin Americanist, I’ve long held that we cannot overlook the critical relationships we have in our own Hemisphere. There’s no other country with whom the United States is more intricately tied – by geography, history, culture and economy – than Mexico. Yet as poverty, gang violence, and instability in Central America directly impact the security and stability of the United States, President Trump routinely denigrates our Southern neighbors as drug-traffickers and rapists. At a time when nimble economic statecraft and engagement are called for, he has instead mobilized American military troops on our Southern border to confront the thousands of children fleeing horrific gang violence and poverty. What kind of leadership is this? Who would want us for an ally?
‘America first’ is sending a signal of weakness, not of strength, to the world. It is an abdication of leadership, leaving power vacuums our rivals are too happy to fill. We see rising nationalism and retrenchment in European political parties. In Latin America, we see China steadily exerting economic and cultural influence.
Simply put: ‘America First’ risks leaving America isolated and behind.
Yes, we face a burden of leadership, but it is a joyful burden we must embrace. And when the President of the United States seems incapable of asserting leadership and intent on undermining diplomacy to advance America’s interests. We must double down and champion the values that have shaped our nation since its founding. As former Secretary Albright recently said to me and some of my colleagues: ‘its Article I time’.
The Constitution made Congress a coequal branch of government for a reason. And while no President enjoys answering to a check on their power, we must assert it now more than ever. I will continue demanding the Administration uphold the law. That means implementing the remaining sections of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act – which the Congress passed overwhelmingly to hold Russia accountable for interfering in our elections, develop a comprehensive strategy to counter Iran, and use maximum pressure on China to exert maximum leverage on North Korea.
In the Foreign Relations Committee, I’ve made it clear to my friend and Chairman Bob Corker that we must not only demand nominations, we must conduct robust hearings on how the Administration is diplomatically confronting threats from Russia to China to Iran.
And even if my colleagues across the aisle are afraid of upsetting the President, I won’t hesitate to call out potential abuses of power, like the politically-motivated firing of career civil servants or the Trump Organization’s possible efforts to use the presidency to grow the family business in everything from trademarks to construction deals. Because democracy will not defend itself - We must defend democracy.
And at the heart of any thriving democracy is the principle of good governance. It’s a value we champion around the world – on we must also champion at home. I fear this administration’s approach is telling the world that America is no longer exceptional, and that our behavior should be no different than a Russia or a China, pursuing power, acting transactionally, eschewing accountability.
We cannot allow for such willful degradation of who we are and what we stand for. We must continue to be a leader on the global stage, driven by those values that have made us great.
American leadership at home and abroad flows from our values.
We’re a nation of immigrants, of dreamers, of innovators, of believers in human rights and the dignity of all people. We must continue to be that beacon of light, that ray of hope to everyone in the darkest corners of the world.
As we stare into this confluence of unprecedented challenges, the Trump Administration has in many ways functioned like a stress test for our institutions and democratic values. And fortunately, what I see in every corner of our country is the refusal of the American people to fail that test. They are standing up for our values like never before.
From the renewed activism of our citizens, to the record numbers of women running for public office, to the teenagers uniting in common cause and demanding accountability from the lawmakers in charge. The American people continue to be the greatest ambassadors of our nation’s character; Reminding us of the sheer power of an informed democratic society living in freedom.
We must hold on tightly to our principles. We must vigorously champion our values. And we must cling to the democratic norms that have made it possible for the American people to overcome injustice, advance equal rights, and bend the arc of history towards progress for the past two hundred years.
When we champion these values – they echo far beyond our borders. They define our leadership around the world. They give us our comparative advantage. They make America exceptional.
And it is these values that inspire others to work with us, to partner with us, and to rally with us in facing down the greatest challenges of our time.
Juan Pachon, 202.224.4130
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