May 21, 2020

Ranking Member Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Business Meeting

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks at the beginning of today’s Foreign Relations Committee business meeting.

“Mr. Chairman, I have a two preliminary matters that I would like to address.

As an initial matter, I ask for unanimous consent to enter into the record of this meeting a number of items related to the nomination of Michael Pack. These materials include letters from all of the democratic members of the Committee to you, Mr. Chairman; letters to former White House Acting Chief of Staff Mulvaney and current Chief of Staff Meadows concerning Mr. Pack; letters between Pack and myself; my QFRs to Pack and his responses, and other items. I have a hard copy of each item here with me, but in light of the current precautions due to COVID, I would be pleased to submit these documents electronically to the Chief Clerk.

Second, I am deeply troubled by the fact—and our discussions with the Parliamentarian and the Rules Committee indicate a totally different set of circumstances—that this business meeting is available to the American people and the rest of the world only through audio. Every other committee that I have been on and that I have observed is conducting its hearing and or its meetings by video and audio stream. If you are deaf, an audio stream does nothing for you at the end of the day. It violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. It violates the rules, from my perspective. I am even more troubled by the fact that you blocked a video live stream despite multiple requests for video including from all 10 members of the Minority. For a committee that promotes transparency, good governance, the rule of law around the world, and open societies it is ironic that you, as Chairman, are preventing the public from viewing this meeting. So, certainly, it is unprecedented. 

Mr. Chairman, we are facing an unprecedented crisis. We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has taken more than 80,000 American lives and threatens to take tens of thousands more. Across the world, millions of people may die. The international community is banding together to find solutions to this deadly virus. 

It is in times like this that Senators from both parties have put their political differences aside to come together to pursue our best interests, to help give our government the tools it needs to best serve Americans and present a united front to the world. And this Committee has played a central role in those moments. 

In this moment, we should be utilizing all of our collective resources to marshal a strong and effective response on behalf of the American people. We should be holding hearings on how to craft a bipartisan response that will save lives and help restart the economy in this country and around the world. We should be working together to craft bipartisan legislation that will ensure that the United States government that is appropriately organized and sufficiently funded to impact the global response to COVID. 

But that is not what we we’re doing. This committee has not held any COVID-related hearings, and despite my repeated requests there has been no meaningful committee consideration of COVID legislation. 

Committee Democrats have put forward a strong and comprehensive vision. We had hoped to work with you on the COVID-19 International Response and Recovery Act. Since that was not possible, we introduced the bill three weeks ago and urged you multiple times, Mr. Chairman, to include it in this markup. 

Beyond not even allowing it on the agenda, we understand that you may not even be willing to allow a COVID-related debate and amendment process at today’s meeting.

Mr. Chairman, that is simply not right. The only way the Committee can meet the challenge of COVID is if you lead in a bipartisan way and we are eager for you to do so.

To the extent we were in normal circumstances, the legislative agenda would be a good one. These are solid bipartisan bills, and I have been asking for many of them to be taken up for over a year.  

I would also urge you to take up Senator Young and Van Hollen’s New START legislation. Senator Young as we all recall, agreed to withdraw his bill as an amendment to another piece of legislation at the last business meeting six months ago after you committed to marking it up at a future business meeting. I hope you will honor that commitment. Similarly, Senator Cardin has been seeking a markup of his bipartisan legislation and I want to work with you and him to make that happen at the next business meeting, and I know there are many others on this Committee with other priorities and who wish to see a more active legislative agenda. 

Now, I understand that it is your intention to pass most of the items on today’s agenda en bloc and that you may not consider any other pieces of legislation that have amendments. Mr. Chairman, that is simply unacceptable. To sit idle for six months and then effectively tell members of this Committee they cannot offer amendments to legislation? That’s not an approach that we can abide by.  

Finally, Mr. Chairman, in this moment, where we should be coming together to fight COVID, we are unfortunately being driven apart by your handling of the Michael Pack nomination.     

Under both Republicans and Democrats, this Committee operated under the principle of comity. That means we did things together: we found common ground and we resolved problems through bipartisanship. This does mean we voted the same way on everything, but that the Chairman respected the role and rights of the minority party.  

This is the third time that you have broken comity this Congress. The first two times we urged you to step back from the brink and we tried to reach accommodations that kept the spirit of comity alive, even if only on life support. 

When I was the Chairman of this Committee, at the request of then Ranking Member Corker, I didn’t move my own State Department Authorization bill. At the request of the Ranking Member and despite pressure from a Democratic White House, I didn’t move nominees who were qualified and who I strongly supported. I respected this Committee and upheld comity, and I respected the Senate as an independent and co-equal branch of government.  

And I was not alone. On a bipartisan basis, Democrats and Republicans alike carried on the best traditions of this Committee. Corker, Kerry, Biden, Lugar and so on: they all respected comity, and they did because it was right, they did because it was effective, and they did it because when we work together American foreign policy is stronger. But now, Mr. Chairman, you are ending that bipartisan legacy. 

You did nothing to defend historical, bipartisan Committee or Senate prerogatives when Michael Pack broke his commitment to me and refused to engage in good faith on serious vetting issues. You failed to even respond to the concerns of the entire Democratic membership of the Committee when all 10 of us objected to noticing Pack and asked for a second hearing or a closed discussion. And now you have put him up for a vote a second time, with only two days’ notice despite the continued objection of all Democratic members and shocking new developments in the Pack saga.   

At your request, Mr. Chairman, I met with Michael Pack last year. He may not have been my chosen nominee, but in the interest of ensuring leadership at critical agencies, last fall, I cleared him to advance in the nominations process. 

However, on the eve of his hearing last year, new, problematic information came to light concerning his taxes and other serious background issues. In the spirit of cooperation, I felt it would be unfair to raise such issues publicly until he had an opportunity to address them privately. 

So at his hearing, I asked for his commitment to providing prompt and complete responses on those issues. At the time, he promised to do so, but in the end he never engaged with the Committee in good faith. His responses to my questions were perfunctory and self-serving, and he refused to provide any of the requested documentation could have verified those responses if they are actually truthful.  

So, what do we know about Mr. Pack? Let’s start with the issues that my staff and I have been raising with you, Mr. Pack, and the White House for the last eight months. 

We know that, for years, he misrepresented the relationship between his non-profit organization and his for-profit company to the IRS. His film company received millions in grants from his non-profit, yet he repeatedly told the IRS that there was no relationship between them, when, in fact, he ran them both.  

Mr. Pack admitted that he gave false information to the IRS, but he has refused to correct his past filings. Even after acknowledging this, he still wrote in his questionnaire to this Committee that his tax returns are complete and accurate when he knew—he knew—that was not the case. In other words, he lied to the Committee.

Mr. Pack has also refused to provide basic information that would shed light on whether the transactions between non-profit and his business were above board, claiming that they were too sensitive for members of this Committee to see. Really? These agreements between two sides of Mr. Pack’s business interests are so sensitive that United States Senators, cleared to review the most sensitive classified information, cannot see them? 

Colleagues, I am at a loss here. These are among the most basic questions that we ask of all nominees—and the minimum standard we used to ask them to meet. Provide accurate information to the IRS. Provide accurate information to the Committee. Don’t Lie. 

Is there a reason that Mr. Pack does not need to meet the basic standards of every other nominee before this Committee? I know there was a time when that my colleagues used to care about tax issues. I’ve been here long enough o see many nominees—very qualified individuals—be disqualified by virtue of tax issues, including the former Majority Leader of the United States Senate. But we seem to not care about these tax issues at all. 

And Mr. Chairman, as you know, I am not just speaking about the tax issue. There are a range of other serious background problems that implicate Mr. Pack’s fitness to serve, but I fear that you and the White House have looked the other way. 

So that brings us up to May 7, when you first noticed Mr. Pack for a committee vote, over our strenuous objection. So it was a notice that broke comity. We did not agree. But it is not the end of this adventure.  

You scheduled the original vote on May 14th. Had we taken that vote, and we came within hours of doing so, it would have likely been before Members of this Committee knew that Mr. Pack is under investigation by the Attorney General for the District of Columbia for the very same allegations of self-dealing and self-enrichment that I have been highlighting for you since last year. Just think about that: you almost had the members of the Committee voting on a nominee only to learn hours later that he is under investigation and subject to subpoenas issued by the lead law enforcement agency in the very jurisdiction in which the Senate sits. 

And not only is the DC Attorney General’s Office investigating Mr. Pack, it has reached out to ask us for the Committee’s assistance. I have made it absolutely clear, publicly and in communication with you and the Senate Legal Counsel, that we need to cooperate with this request—this Committee and the Senate as a whole. We owe it to the American people to be transparent and promote the rule of law.

So I was stunned and saddened to see that before the Senate Legal Counsel even had an opportunity to respond, to provide us guidance; and before we had an opportunity to jointly engage the DC Attorney General and learn more about the investigation, you rescheduled the vote on Pack, and you did so with only two days’ notice.  

Mr. Chairman, I have to ask: what could possibly be so urgent about Mr. Pack, about this single nomination that you are so desperate to move him forward? 

You have stated that your standard for nominees with serious vetting problems—nominees that would have previously never been submitted to the Senate or received a Committee vote—is to gather all the information and then get it out into the public and let the chips fall where they may. But we have not even lived up to your own standard. We simply don’t have all the information on Pack.

So I ask my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: why are we doing this? Why are we voting on a nominee who has not been honest with the Committee? Why are we voting on a nominee who has not been honest with the U.S. government? Why are we voting on a nominee who is the subject of an investigation for unlawful self-enrichment? Is this really the person you want running a U.S. government agency with a budget of almost a billion dollars?

And what does this say to the American people? How can they trust this Committee, and why should they have faith that Mr. Pack will not use taxpayer dollars for his own benefit? 

At this point, let me raise one conspiracy theory circling around the internet, a conspiracy theory that sadly will likely be repeated at this meeting. It goes something like this: The Chairman had no choice but to schedule a vote on Pack because the pending investigation is “politically-motivated,” as evidenced by a letter from me to the DC Attorney General, and the DC Attorney General is only investigating Mr. Pack because I asked him to do so. Colleagues, please. 

Mr. Chairman, I did write to Attorney General Racine. I did so eight months after Mr. Pack’s suspect business practices were exposed, not by me but by the so-called mainstream media—CNBC, hardly a liberal bastion. I did so eight months after Mr. Pack committed publicly to answer my questions about these allegations and then promptly refused to do so. I did so eight months after repeatedly asking you and the White House to address these allegations.

Absolutely, I wrote a letter to the D.C. Attorney General, the lead law enforcement official in the very jurisdiction in which the Senate sits. In that letter, I explained my concerns over what I have been trying to get to the bottom of. Not because of politics, but because the Chairman and Ranking Member of this Committee have a duty to ensure nominees are fit for office, not to rubber stamp them regardless of whatever baggage they bring to the table.

And I got a response from Mr. Racine. Let me quote from it: “Based on public reporting and publicly available materials, my Office was already aware of issues similar to those discussed in your letter, and we share your concerns. We currently have an open investigation into these concerns under our Nonprofit Corporations Act authority.” 

So the DC Attorney General was already conducting their investigation, “already aware” of Mr. Pack’s legal problems before receiving my letter, and he already had an open investigation into Mr. Pack prior to my letter.  

So Mr. Chairman, that is what I did, and I am happy to answer any questions about it. But now, let’s ask, what did you do? I think the Committee would benefit from a better understanding what specific steps you took to address this issue and Mr. Pack’s other unresolved background problems. 

What steps did you take to require Mr. Pack to correct his false statements to the Committee? What steps did you take to require Mr. Pack to correct his false statements with the IRS and provide the U.S. Government with legally-required disclosures? What steps did you take to ensure that we were not moving forward with a nominee who has violated the law?                                        ?

We have a constitutional duty. If “advice and consent” means anything, at minimum—at rock bottom—it means ensuring that people we confirm are suitable for public service. And if they’re not, we don’t move forward. 

So, before concluding, I must note that the fact that this Committee is about to vote on a nominee under investigation is not the only highly disturbing development of the week. As we have seen, Secretary Pompeo has taken the drastic and likely self-interested step of causing the firing of the State Department Inspector General. This Committee needs to be addressing that matter on an urgent basis.

Mr. Chairman, to get this business meeting moving in a bipartisan direction and to ensure that the meeting does not end before we take up the business of the American people, I think we need an order of business for this meeting that reflects the priorities of the American people. 

Accordingly, I now move that we establish an order of business for this meeting as follows: that the Committee first take up and vote on S. 3667, the Consular and Administrative Authorities Act, and the COVID amendments filed for that bill; that we then turn to the other important national security and foreign policy legislative items on the agenda; and that consideration of the nomination of Michael Pack be postponed.”

###

Press Contact

Juan Pachon 202-224-4651