July 30, 2020

Menendez Opening Remarks at Pompeo Hearing on State Department Budget Request for FY2021

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s Foreign Relations Committee hearing entitled “Review of the FY2021 State Department Budget Request.” Testifying at today’s hearing was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“When you entered office, I offered a hand to work with you on areas where we could have built real agendas with bipartisan political buy-in — Venezuela, Iran, Russia, China. And indeed, I’m disappointed,” Ranking Member Menendez said to Secretary Pompeo. “But as I look at your tenure in office and at the track record of this administration, I am disappointed that instead of making ‘America First’ among the nations of the world, you have instead relinquished our leadership to the applause and approval of China and Russia. That makes ‘America Last.’”

“While this hearing is ostensibly convened for the President’s FY21 budget request, you, I and everybody on this dais knows that the President’s wish to completely gut our international affairs budget by a shocking 34 percent is Dead On Arrival,” Ranking Member Menendez added. “Even if this ‘budget’ hearing were not months after the fact and far too late in the legislative process, let me just say it is fundamentally misguided and unsuited to the needs of safeguarding our nation’s security.” 

The hearing was held just two days after Ranking Member Menendez unveiled a new report entitled Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department, which, through an analysis of the senior-level vacancies plaguing the State Department, repeated nominee vetting failures, and attacks on career employees, recounts the impact on morale and the resulting damage to U.S. foreign policy, and issues a set of recommendations for rebuilding and retaining diplomatic expertise.

“The Report found a State Department at risk of catastrophic failure, with career diplomats describing a ‘complete and utter disdain for [their] expertise’ and even a ‘contempt’ for career employees, many asking ‘if their service is still valued,’” Ranking Member Menendez added. “This administration promised us ‘the best people. The very best. Terrific. Tremendous.’ But, Mr. Secretary, the best people don’t seem to want to work for you.” 

 

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s full remarks as delivered: 

“Thank you Mr. Chairman. Thank you for joining us this morning, Mr. Secretary. It has been a while since you have joined us and I appreciate your enthusiasm for fulfilling this part of your constitutional responsibilities.  

But if past is precedent, I don’t imagine we’re going to see you up here anytime soon, so while this is your opportunity to defend your stunningly ill-conceived request to slash the budget of our foreign policy instruments, I would also like to take a wholesale look at how your Department has represented the American people and American interests on the world stage over the past year. And unfortunately, that view is not good, to say the least. 

Under your watch, the United States has faced setback after setback on the world stage, ceding leverage and influence to our stated adversaries. Today, Iran is much closer to a nuclear bomb then when you came into office, and despite your maximum pressure campaign, Iran and its proxies continue to create problems throughout the Middle East. While the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) details that “Russia want[s] to “weaken U.S. influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners,” and “undermine the legitimacy of democracies,” the President and your administration has at best not seriously addressed this threat. 

You have never fully used the tools we provided in CATSA, and at worst simply abetted Putin’s efforts — withdrawing forces from German, failing to take action when evidence emerged that Russia was paying bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and twice redirecting funds from the European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) to pay for President Trump’s wasteful border wall in September 2019 and April 2020.

Meanwhile, the administration’s confrontational bluster against China has not stopped China’s march in the South China Sea, in Hong Kong, in suppressing and oppressing its own people. 

Our North Korea diplomacy — which you assured this Committee you’d have wrapped up within a year about two years ago — appears to have flat-lined, leaving North Korea with a more capable nuclear and ballistic missile program.

Across Africa, the State Department has been woefully absent on issue after issue after issue, most recently in its engagement on negotiations related to management of Nile waters. 

In the Western Hemisphere, the entirety of our approach seems to be xenophobic, anti-immigrant hysteria, and bullying, all while gutting our institutional capacity to deal with the root-causes of migration. There is bipartisan support for a Venezuela policy, yet your approach has left millions of Venezuelans still suffering. And the administration won’t even support those who are already exiled here. And even as we struggle with an opioid epidemic, you propose cutting our international narcotics and law enforcement.

On climate change, your Department not just failed to be part of the solution but is becoming part of the problem, actively undermining international efforts to safeguard our planet’s future. 

Our allies — in Europe, in Asia, in the Middle East — routinely wonder aloud whether we can really be counted on. 

And our values have been denigrated, from President Trump’s reported green-lighting of concentration camps in Xinjiang to the revisionist — and sometimes repulsive — views espoused by your so-called Unalienable Rights Commission. 

And in the face of a global pandemic, when our scientists, our technology, and our diplomats should be leading the global response, we have instead taken a back seat and are witnessing the collapse of leadership both home and abroad. 

Rather than putting forth a real strategy, our leaders point fingers at China and the World Health Organization, are absent from critical global meetings, and refuse to be straight with Congress and the American people on the public health threat. All the while, infections and deaths surge across the country.  

Of course, as we all know, the strength of our diplomacy starts and ends with the strength of our diplomatic corps.  

Earlier this week I released a report, Diplomacy in Crisis: The Trump Administration’s Decimation of the State Department. I have a copy here in case you haven’t seen it. And I’d ask you now for consent to enter it into the record, Mr. Chairman. 

The Report found a State Department at risk of catastrophic failure, with career diplomats describing a “complete and utter disdain for [their] expertise” and even a “contempt” for career employees, many asking “if their service is still valued.” 

And even as President Trump refers to our diplomats as the “Deep State Department,” you have stood at his shoulder, and said nothing — exemplified by your refusal to stand behind Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

The result is an exodus of expertise: Seven percent of the Department’s staff left in the first year and a half of the administration. And while I realize that you were not at the Department during that time, the Department has continued to suffer persistent vacancies without Senate-confirmed nominees. And in response, the administration’s repeatedly puts forth candidates who do not possess the qualifications, the demeanor, or the temperament to serve in leadership positions and represent the American people abroad. 

When you send us qualified nominees, Mr. Secretary, we act. We have confirmed more than 160 nominees — and dozens have advanced quickly and without incidence. But you continually send us nominees who have misled Congress, who have made offensive or racist statements, who have sexual harassment lawsuits and allegations against them, who have supported torture, and whose conduct would disqualify them for service in any other administration. 

This administration promised us “the best people. The very best. Terrific. Tremendous.”  But, Mr. Secretary, the best people don’t seem to want to work for you. 

Finally, let me just touch on a few oversight issues — which I know you were passionate about as a former Member of Congress.

At your direction, the President recently removed the State Department’s Inspector General, who was investigating, perhaps among other things, last year’s “emergency declaration” of arms sales to Saudi Arabia — about which I, along with a bipartisan group of colleagues, raised serious concerns. 

Additionally, we have learned of allegations of you using your office to promote your own personal, domestic political agenda — hosting lavish dinners at the Department and creating at least the appearance of using taxpayer resources to impress high-profile political donors. 

While this hearing is ostensibly convened for the President’s FY21 budget request, you, I and everybody on this dais knows that the President’s wish to completely gut our international affairs budget by a shocking 34 percent is Dead On Arrival. That said, I must say I’m tempted to provide you with a budget request and see how you could actually operate under it.  

Even if this “budget” hearing were not months after the fact and far too late in the legislative process, let me just say it is fundamentally misguided and unsuited to the needs of safeguarding our nation’s security.

I recognize that you will take issue with much of what I have said, Mr. Secretary. But facts are stubborn things. 

When you entered office, I offered a hand to work with you on areas where we could have built real agendas with bipartisan political buy-in — Venezuela, Iran, Russia, China.  And indeed, I’m disappointed. 

But as I look at your tenure in office and at the track record of this administration, I am disappointed that instead of making “America First” among the nations of the world, you have instead relinquished our leadership to the applause and approval of China and Russia. That makes “America Last.”

Thank you Mr. Chairman.”

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon 202-224-4651