July 21, 2020

Menendez Opening Remarks at Nominations Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement at this morning’s hearing on the nominations of Marshall Billingslea to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security,  C.J. Mahoney to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State, and Carlos Trujillo to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

“ I am a huge believer — spent my whole life — in public service and I have the greatest respect for our career diplomatic and development professionals. I also believe that service as a political appointee is a noble calling and essential to our system. Until this moment, I would have never questioned anyone’s decision to serve in a political capacity in any administration — Democratic or Republican — but I’m honestly perplexed as to why you’re pursuing these nominations,” said Senator Menendez to the nominees. “They’re great jobs and honorable ones under normal circumstances, but nothing about this moment and this administration is normal. We have a President who seeks to divide us domestically, that attacks our allies and coddles our enemies, and we have a Secretary of State that enables him. And this is not the beginning of the administration. We all now know its ugliness, its incompetence, and its lawlessness – Charlottesville, Khashoggi, the Ukraine scandal, and more recently, Lafayette Square, Portland, Oregon, and reportedly a Trump green light for Uyghur concentration camps. There is no bottom. 

“I do not understand why you’re signing on to such a tour. I can’t imagine that you’ll be proud of what you are going to have to advocate for, so why do you want to own it? Isn’t it past time for the senior political leadership in this country to stand up and say “Enough. This isn’t right. I don’t want to be a part of it. We have to ask ourselves that question, and I hope that you will reflect on it urgently.” 

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s remarks as delivered:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to each of the nominees.   

Mr. Chairman, I first want to thank you for listening to the Democratic members on the importance of rebalancing the Committee agenda. We urged you to shift away from a nominations-only approach and to rejuvenate the Committee’s policy and oversight focus. The fact that that you finally appear to have secured Secretary Pompeo’s testimony, in particular, is a solid step in the right direction. 

But at the same time I must share my deep disappointment over today’s hearing, including that you noticed it unilaterally and over the objection of the Committee Minority. Today’s hearing represents the evisceration of critical Committee oversight efforts and a related and continual pattern of rubber-stamping Trump administration nominees. On both fronts, the Committee is caving to the executive branch and moving forward without transparency, accountability, or regard for our constitutional system of checks and balances.  

Let me explain what I mean. It is no secret that the President and his Secretary of State recoil from scrutiny. They claim to act on behalf of the American people, yet they fight against any congressional or public scrutiny of their actions. 

This is obviously unacceptable. In response and as a last resort, committee Democrats urged you not to move forward with nominations for positions connected to blatant State Department stonewalling. This was particularly the case with the Legal Adviser and Western Hemisphere positions, as the administration has been particularly obstructionist in those areas.  

Let me give just a few examples: The Department is blocking us from examining the firing of the State Department Inspector General — the very same inspector general who was investigating Secretary Pompeo at the time of his firing. The Department has refused to come clean with the legal determinations concerning Saudi Arabia’s brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The administration is withholding key witnesses in a joint Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House investigation into the Trump administration’s political targeting of career State Department employees. And, the administration continues to hide the controversial instruments it negotiated with Mexico and the Northern Triangle countries.  

This is dangerous. Bad things happen when there is no transparency, no accountability, no oversight. We have seen it time and again with this administration. Yet Mr. Chairman, by moving forward with this hearing — and I understand it was under significant pressure from Secretary Pompeo — you eliminated any incentive the Department had to engage and undermined the Committee’s ability to pursue the public interest — to shine a light on the darkest, most disturbing corners of the Trump foreign policy and Pompeo State Department.  

A separate but related problem is the refusal of the administration and some nominees to cooperate on vetting matters. This problem is front and center with Mr. Billingslea. ?

He has simply not come clean about his involvement in Bush-era torture programs, claiming over and over again that he never advocated for torture. The problem is that’s just not true. The evidence shows that Mr. Billingslea was a strong advocate for hooding, 20-hour interrogations, forced grooming, sleep deprivation, removal of clothing, face and stomach slaps, and use of dogs in interrogations. 

We should not be moving forward with Mr. Billingslea’s nomination. Period. The stain of torture combined with his credibility gap should be disqualifying. But even if you disagree, Mr. Chairman, at a minimum, we should not be moving forward until he truthfully acknowledges his actions. But here he is before us today, so what incentive does he have left to come clean with us?  

And it is not just Mr. Billingslea. We have seen it multiple times over the last two years. Michael Pack, Darrell Issa, Doug Manchester and so on. 

So Mr. Chairman, I am deeply dismayed at what this hearing represents. If we are truly a coequal branch of government, we have to act like it. On behalf of the American people, we have to rebalance our relationship with the executive branch, regardless of which party is in the White House. Our relevance depends on it, and I hope we can move forward in the future in a different direction. 

Finally, a word to the nominees, in particular Ambassadors Mahoney and Trujillo. I am a huge believer — spent my whole life — in public service and I have the greatest respect for our career diplomatic and development professionals. I also believe that service as a political appointee is a noble calling and essential to our system. 

Until this moment, I would have never questioned anyone’s decision to serve in a political capacity in any administration — Democratic or Republican — but I’m honestly perplexed as to why you’re pursuing these nominations.  

They’re great jobs and honorable ones under normal circumstances, but nothing about this moment and this administration is normal. We have a President who seeks to divide us domestically, that attacks our allies and coddles our enemies, and we have a Secretary of State that enables him.

And this is not the beginning of the administration. We all now know its ugliness, its incompetence, and its lawlessness – Charlottesville, Khashoggi, the Ukraine scandal, and more recently, Lafayette Square, Portland, Oregon, and reportedly a Trump green light for Uyghur concentration camps. There is no bottom. 

I do not understand why you’re signing on to such a tour. I can’t imagine that you’ll be proud of what you are going to have to advocate for, so why do you want to own it?

Isn’t it past time for the senior political leadership in this country to stand up and say “Enough. This isn’t right. I don’t want to be a part of it.” 

We have to ask ourselves that question, and I hope that you will reflect on it urgently.   

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

 

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