August 16, 2018

Menendez Opening Remarks at Nomination Hearing for Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

WASHINGTON D.C. – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, delivered the following opening remarks at today’s hearing on the nomination of Ambassador David Hale to the position of Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and let me join you in once again welcoming Ambassador Hale before the Committee. 

Few diplomats have served our nation as ably and honorably as Ambassador Hale in some of our most critical diplomatic posts. You seem to have a penchant for challenging posts, and I am confident that we have the right person for the job. But let there be no mistake: if confirmed, you will face not only the immense challenges throughout the world confronting the United States, but also of shaping and executing concrete policies to confront those challenges, which, to date, this Administration has failed to do.

If confirmed, your areas of responsibility would potentially encompass any and every issue before the Department -- from crisis management to the day-to-day conduct of our diplomacy to the development of longer-term strategies.

So let me briefly raise several core areas of concern where I expect to see Ambassador Hale, if confirmed, playing a leading role at the Department. It is my sincere hope that someone with your knowledge and experience can help this Administration actually develop and implement coherent strategies with diplomacy-led direction.

Let’s start with Russia:

Let me be clear: unlike the president, I do not consider Russia a friend.  I believe Vladimir Putin is a geopolitical adversary, who presents an ongoing threat to our democracy and global stability.

I am curious to hear what advice you intend to provide the Secretary and the president on how we deal with Russia -- from its interference in democratic processes to its use of chemical weapons to Ukraine and Syria. 

While the Administration has taken some punitive steps against some offenses, it has failed to fully implement mandatory provisions under the Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act. Even if the Administration will not act responsibly, Congress will. As you know, Senator Graham and I introduced new comprehensive legislation two weeks ago, and we would appreciate your thoughts on that bill. 

Moving to the Middle East:

The Administration has also flouted the statutory requirement in CAATSA to provide this Committee with an Iran strategy. Re-imposing sanctions that this body worked for decades to legislate is not a strategy. Trusting Russia to address the Iranian presence in Syria is not a strategy.

Similarly, I would like to understand what our strategy is to address violence in Yemen; instability in Iraq; the tremendous humanitarian crisis and strains on refugee host nations like Jordan and Lebanon; and the pressure that this refugee crisis is creating in Europe.

Speaking of refugees, the Trump administration slashed refugee admissions last year, and is reportedly pushing for another devastating cut – to 15,000 refugees – the lowest level since 1980. This President seems to delight in picking on the most vulnerable people. America is better than this. Failing to provide refuge to the world’s most vulnerable, those seeking shelter from war and persecution – betrays America’s values and relinquishes our role as a humanitarian leader.

With respect to Afghanistan, how does the administration plan to balance reconciliation efforts with the Taliban in light of our military commitment?

I also hope that, if confirmed, you will pay particular attention to our own Hemisphere. 

I have supported the Administration’s efforts to use targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials, but our actions have been largely reactive and a massive humanitarian and refugee crisis now threatens regional stability. I will soon be introducing a comprehensive bill regarding Venezuela with Senator Rubio, and I welcome your thoughts on that as well. 

In Central America, our efforts to work with Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to address the violence and political instability driving people to flee are not succeeding. Aside from tearing away children from their parents and locking up asylum seekers in cages – which is both reprehensible and ineffective – what is the Administration doing to address this issue?   

So, there is much work to be done.

Yet across the world, and counter to its own its own national security strategy, the current administration is eroding support for democracy, good governance, transparency, and human rights around the world.  The President routinely praises dictators and congratulates autocrats on winning rigged elections, and his budget request would decimate foreign assistance in support of our interests. 

So I am very interested in hearing on how you plan to promote these values across the Department and the world.

Lastly, I want to flag for Ambassador Hale an issue that the Chairman and I have raised with Secretary Pompeo and consider to be of the utmost importance: the need for greater transparency, openness, and communication from the Department in dealing with this Committee and with the American people. Regular press briefings, timely response to Committee requests for briefings and information, and Departmental witnesses for hearings are all essential to make sure that we, as a government and nation, can advance our foreign policy effectively.  Ambassador Hale, I trust that you would agree and will regularly engage with this committee.

Ambassador Hale, I look forward to your testimony.”

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