January 19, 2021

Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Antony Blinken Nomination to Serve as Secretary of State

“As we work to advance American interests around the globe and seek to create a more democratic, prosperous and secure world, we have to redouble our efforts at home to secure a more perfect union for all Americans.”

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this afternoon’s hearing on the nomination of Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State. Blinken has previously served as Staff Director of the Foreign Relations Committee, Deputy Secretary of State, and as a member of the Obama-Biden administration’s national security team.

If confirmed, your task will be to repair and restore America’s place in the world. You will face complex challenges all over the globe. The world is on fire,” Senator Menendez said. “Rebuilding alliances, restoring American leadership at international institutions, tackling problems that define our times and defy borders like climate change, migration, and COVID-19. And you will need to re-center our foreign policy around the core American values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But you will need to do so thoughtfully.”

In addition to discussing present diplomatic challenges for the Biden administration including Chinese aggression, Iranian nuclear activity, and political and humanitarian crises in Latin America, Ranking Member Menendez also commented on the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol and its implications for American foreign policy:

“This attack on the very foundations of our democracy delivered a tragic reminder that our ability to project power abroad is inextricably linked to the health and strength of our democracy,” Senator Menendez added, calling on Blinken to stand up for democracy, for the Constitution, and for the rule of law. “As we work to advance American interests around the globe and seek to create a more democratic, prosperous and secure world, we have to redouble our efforts at home to secure a more perfect union for all Americans.”

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s remarks as delivered:

“Mr. Blinken, congratulations on your nomination. You are superbly-qualified and prepared to be our next Secretary of State. You have impressed all of us over the years with your intellect, your dedication, and your humanity including during your successful tenure as Deputy Secretary of State, Deputy National Security Advisor, and as Staff Director of this Committee. 

While tomorrow’s inauguration is a time for healing and renewal, I am nonetheless compelled to speak about the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th. The images from that day are permanently seared in our collective conscience: terrorists defiling the Capitol with Confederate flags and Nazi images, seeking to take hostage or perhaps kill our democratically-elected leaders, savagely beating police officers.

In that respect, my heart goes out to the families of New Jersey native and Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who succumbed to those injuries, and the family of Capitol Police Officer Howard Liebengood, as well as the dozens of officers injured in the attack.

This attack on the very foundations of our democracy delivered a tragic reminder that our ability to project power abroad is inextricably linked to the health and strength of our democracy. This does not mean that we cannot talk about the importance of democracy abroad. No. But rather, we must show that Senators and all other leaders in this country have a duty to stand up for democracy, for the Constitution, for the rule of law. There can be no exceptions. I expect that from the Biden administration and based on my experience, I know, Mr. Blinken, will do so in word and deed. 

If confirmed, your task will be to repair and restore America’s place in the world. You will face complex challenges all over the globe. The world is on fire. Rebuilding alliances, restoring American leadership at international institutions, tackling problems that define our times and defy borders like climate change, migration, and COVID-19. And you will need to re-center our foreign policy around the core American values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

But you will need to do so thoughtfully. Over the past year, the world has watched the United States completely falter on a national response to COVID-19, continue its overdue reckoning with systemic racism, and struggle with a President’s obsession with thwarting the peaceful transfer of power, pushing disinformation and attacking a free press. As we work to advance American interests around the globe and seek to create a more democratic, prosperous and secure world, we have to redouble our efforts at home to secure a more perfect union for all Americans.

As you are likely aware, North Korea, Russia and Turkey require immediate attention. Over the past four years, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs have continued to grow unchecked. In other words, the United States and our allies are more at risk now, after four years of President Trump, than when he took office. A revanchist Russia continues to threaten the United States and our allies, including through the recent SolarWinds cyberattack, the spread of disinformation, and efforts to silence and murder political opposition. And Turkey continues to be destabilizing by supporting Azerbaijan’s aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh and through its own aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean against our democratic allies, Greece and Cyprus.  

From a broader regional perspective, one of your most important challenges will be to forge a coherent strategy for the Indo-Pacific, one led by our values, centered on our allies and partners, and implemented with consistency.

As you know, I believe that while the Trump administration got some of the questions about the region right, they came up with the wrong answers. At a time when we should have been strengthening our alliances, building new partnerships, empowering a multilateral architecture, expanding commercial ties, and ensuring the vitality of democracy and the rule of law, the Trump administration – in almost every case – did the exact opposite. And, after four years of the Trump administration, we are in a worse position to effectively compete with China than before.

So I am interested in hearing more about what your top priorities will be, if confirmed, in approaching the Indo-Pacific region and how our China policy nests within this larger framework.      

We also have a number of ongoing challenges in the Middle East, perhaps none so pressing as Iran. As you know, I was not a proponent of the JCPOA, but I also believed the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw without a serious strategy involving our allies would ultimately leave us less safe and Iran emboldened. Unfortunately, Iran’s continuing aggression across the Middle East and its recent nuclear activity that has dramatically advanced its capabilities has vindicated that prediction.

I understand the Biden administration is interested in returning to a diplomatic path – which I support – but I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity will be insufficient. I believe there is bipartisan support to find a comprehensive, diplomatic approach with Iran that includes working closely with our European and regional partners if we take those other issues into consideration.

Closer to home, political crises in Latin America have caused human rights and humanitarian disasters on an unprecedented scale. Simply put, addressing rampant crime, weak governance, corruption, climate-related displacement in the Northern Triangle must be a top priority for this country and deeply impacts the security and economic wellbeing of Americans.

Further south, I’m encouraged by the Biden administration’s plans to renew our commitment to the multilateral efforts we must lead in order to improve the effectiveness of international sanctions and humanitarian aid as we pursue a diplomatic solution to the Venezuelan crisis, Maduro’s campaign of crimes against humanity, and attacks against Interim-President Juan Guaidó and democratic civil society, which I hope the administration will recognize Interim-President Juan Guaidó – all have serious implications for U.S. national security and regional stability.

Mr. Blinken, I also hope you will support Ambassador Bill Richardson’s efforts to free the Citgo 6 – six Americans who have been unjustly detained in Venezuela.

I am confident that, if confirmed, you will do everything you can to repair and restore American leadership abroad. Foundational to that effort will be rebuilding and reinvigorating the State Department itself. As you well know, our career foreign and civil servants are incredibly talented and dedicated. Over the past few year years, however, they have been treated with disdain, smeared, and forced out of public service. There has been a stunning loss of expertise, steep declines in morale, little accountability for those at the top, and the State Department still has not achieved a workforce that comes close to reflecting the diversity of our country. This state of affairs has impacted relationships across the globe, the Department’s ability to engage in the interagency process, and its relationship with Congress. 

So, the challenges you will be facing are immense, but I have confidence in your experience and expertise. I look forward to hearing your testimony today and, upon confirmation, I look forward to working with you to restore America’s place in the world and to repair and rebuild our relationships and our institutions.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.”

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