July 23, 2020

Menendez Opening Remarks at Nominations Committee Hearing on Ambassadors to Peru, Chile, Canada, Guatemala

“After four years, the administration’s policy on oversight requests is crystal clear: a complete rejection of Congress’ constitutional authority in foreign affairs and corresponding responsibility to conduct oversight.”

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 Lisa S. Kenna to be Ambassador to the Peru, Leora Rosenberg Levy to be Ambassador to Chile, Aldona Z. Wos to be Ambassador to Canada, and William W. Popp to be Ambassador to Guatemala.

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s remarks as delivered:

 

“Mr. Chairman, I’m forced to note that this is another in a series of hearings that you have noticed unilaterally and over Democratic objections.

Earlier this week, I mentioned more than sixty oversight requests I sent to Secretary Pompeo, requests that have almost entirely gone unanswered. After four years, the administration’s policy on oversight requests is crystal clear: a complete rejection of Congress’ constitutional authority in foreign affairs and corresponding responsibility to conduct oversight. Unless they absolutely have to engage with us, they will not.

The only way to change that dynamic is if we stick up for ourselves — if we don’t let ourselves be bullied either by the President or the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, that is not happening. 

Ms. Kenna, a senior aide to Secretary Pompeo and one of the nominees on today’s panel, is a case in point. Chairman Engel and I have joint outstanding requests to interview Ms. Kenna in relation to two separate and corrosive episodes: The first relates to the political targeting of career employees at the State Department by Trump appointees, and the second concerns the firing of the State Department Inspector General while he had an active investigation into Secretary Pompeo. 

The Department is stonewalling as usual — they will not authorize Ms. Kenna to sit for an interview. So, as a last resort, we urged you not to move forward with a nominations hearing for her.

Now I sympathize with Ms. Kenna — the Department has put her in a terrible position. But why should we move forward with a nominee when the Department of State is refusing to authorize her to speak with Congress on critical oversight matters?                                         

The stonewalling is particularly egregious here given that the Secretary of State is seeking to hide his own possible wrongdoing in connection with the firing of Steve Linick. This undermines our role and our ability to do our jobs on behalf of the American people, and it should not have happened regardless of how much pressure the Secretary has put.

I need to make one last point before I turn to some country-specific issues. Mr. Chairman, you have frequently indicated that my objections to your handling of certain nominations are related to political or policy differences. I am honestly not sure what you mean by that.

Is asking for an interview with Ms. Kenna to find out what she knows about the firing of the State Department Inspector General a political or policy difference? Is urging Michael Pack to acknowledge and fix his false statements to the Committee and the IRS a political or policy difference? Is asking for more information concerning allegations that Doug Manchester engaged in blatantly sexist behavior and created a hostile work environment for female employees a political or policy difference?

I don’t think so.

We are reviewing the nomination for Canada at a particularly turbulent time in U.S.-Canada relations. The Trump administration’s approach has included the levying of tariffs due to supposed national security considerations, a half-baked attempt to block the export of protective masks during the pandemic, and the occasional insult hurled by a White House senior advisor at Prime Minister Trudeau.

I think we can agree that these are the tactics we aim at an economic adversary, not at one of our top trading partners. That this is how we treat our enemies, not an ally whose sons and daughters have fought and died alongside American soldiers in multiple theaters over the last century.

Amidst this chaos, there have been some positive advances.

Thanks to Democratic leadership, we were able to include stronger provisions on labor and environmental standards in the new U.S.-Canada-Mexico Free Trade Agreement—provisions that will directly benefit American workers and families.

So, I hope to hear a new approach from our nominee on how we can actually strengthen our alliance and economic partnership with Canada.

I’m pleased that, at my request, the nominee for Guatemala has been added to this panel. The challenges in Guatemala require steady leadership, but again, I have been deeply troubled by the President’s policies. For a year, the administration suspended foreign assistance to Guatemala, the very funding we need to advance our national interests and address the violence and poverty forcing people to flee their country.

We’ve coerced the Guatemalan government into a supposed Safe Third Country agreement so that we can transfer asylum seekers from the United States to pursue protection in Guatemala — an agreement that endangers the lives of vulnerable people and appears to conflict with U.S. law. And, we’ve deported dozens of COVID-positive individuals back to Guatemala during the pandemic and threatened Guatemalan officials with visa sanctions if they refuse the flights.

It is disturbing yet hardly surprising that the Guatemalan President said in May, “I don’t believe the U.S. is an ally to Guatemala because they don’t treat us like one.”

I look forward to our nominee’s thoughts on that.

Aside from the oversight matters I mentioned, I’m also pleased we are reviewing a nomination for Peru — a close diplomatic, economic, and security partner in addressing the political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, even as they have experienced their own political turmoil in the last two years and struggled with COVID-19.

Lastly, I am looking forward to having a conversation with Ms. Levy about some of her previous comments that she has made. I want to understand if that is the nature of what we can expect if she were to be confirmed as United States Ambassador.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the nominees’ testimony.”

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon 202-224-4651