March 03, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nomination Hearing for Deputy Secretaries of State

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee nomination hearing for the Honorable Wendy Sherman, nominee to be deputy secretary of State, and the Honorable Brian McKeon, nominee to be deputy secretary of State for management and resources.

“The two nominations that we have before us today are really of considerable importance to our foreign policy and to the effectiveness, certainly, of our State Department.

“The deputy secretary of State will serve as chief advisor to Secretary Blinken and serve as secretary in his absence. The deputy secretary of State for management and resources will serve as the lead officer for the management of personnel and resources at the Department. We all know on this committee how important that is. Neither job is a small task, and both serve a critical function.

“While the deputy secretaries will face a broad array of foreign policy issues during their tenure at the Department, there’s a few pressing matters I would like to talk about and I’d like to focus on specifically today. Obviously I’m not going to touch on them all. I think Senator Menendez did an outstanding job of underscoring the hotspots around the world and places that are of real concern to us.

“I also want to say that I fully agree with Senator Menendez that China and the Indo-Pacific are a critically important region in the world for U.S. interests and are going to be the challenge of the 21st century. The region is home to some of our strongest alliances and partnerships, and it is also the primary arena of competition with the People’s Republic of China.

“The Chinese Communist Party routinely engages in actions that deliberately undermine U.S. interests and values as well as the world order based on free markets and the rule of law. This includes anti-competitive economic statecraft, aggressive military posture and coercion, and undermining the tenets of free and open societies. These are huge challenges for you and for all Americans.

“The State Department’s highest priority must be to prioritize, resource, and respond to the challenges posed by the Chinese government.

“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is currently negotiating a legislative package on China. There are a number of bills kicking around already on the issue. Both sides of the aisle are robustly engaged. The American people deserve a bill that is truly bipartisan and includes concrete and effective proposals.

“I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Menendez, and my other colleagues on the committee and off the committee as the jurisdiction cuts across several committees, on a bill that would strengthen the U.S. position in this competition. I hope we can put forward a strong final product. China is not, and cannot be a partisan issue. It is a common issue for all Americans.

“A central theme for this administration is “rebuilding” U.S. alliances in the Indo-Pacific. The Biden team is in fact already inheriting strong relationships, including with Japan, India, Australia, Taiwan, and other nations. In addition to the rather lofty discussions by the current administration on that, I’d really like to hear specific steps that the administration is pursuing to support and strengthen U.S. alliances.

“One area that is particularly important to our alliances is extended deterrence, which is fundamental and foundational to the health and strength of U.S. alliances. The Biden Administration should commit that our declaratory policy and nuclear posture will continue to reflect that reality. A failure to modernize, or an embrace of policies that dilute or reduce our extended deterrence commitments, will make the Indo-Pacific more dangerous for us and for our allies.

“Finally, on the Indo-Pacific, North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs continue to threaten both regional stability and U.S. forces and allies in the region.

“Ms. Sherman, I’d appreciate your assessment of the North Korea issue and your views on sanctions, the role of high-level diplomacy, and other matters relevant to the Biden Administration’s North Korea strategy. At least as much as we can in a setting like this. We didn’t get a chance to talk about that much when we met, so I’ll be interested in hearing that from you.

“Another issue of acute concern for all of us is Iran. It is really unfortunate that the Iran issue has divided us frequently more than it’s brought us together. And it is absolutely critical to relations in the region.

“My views on Iran are well-known. I was robustly engaged as Ms. Sherman knows when we talked about this years ago. Several of my colleagues joined me in a letter to President Biden last week outlining Republican consensus on an appropriate policy moving forward.

“I don’t know if you’ve seen that or not Ms. Sherman, but it does detail mine and other members of this committee’s views on that. Those of us that signed it were Republican, but that doesn’t mean that those views are strictly Republican. There are a number of us that have worked across the aisle on this issue.

“The Iranians are testing this administration. They tested it again this morning, as most of you know, with an attack on American facilities in the region. The response at the outset is going to be very important. I have no doubt that all of you are at the present time discussing that, and I would hope creating a very worthwhile, appropriate response to the testing that’s done.

“This testing I think that the Iranians are doing is emblematic of the mindset of these people. We’re at a juncture here where people are talking more and more about setting out to try and resolve the issues, and what do they do but ratchet up actual kinetic attacks against Americans.

“These people, as you told me Ms. Sherman, are not to be trusted. I agree with you on that regard, and I doubt there’s many people sitting around the table here that would think otherwise.

“Rejoining the old nuclear accord is a non-starter as far as I’m concerned – it does not meet U.S. national security interests. The scope is too narrow, and the sunsets have passed or remain dangerously close. Any new deal with Iran must address its regional terrorism, ballistic missiles, and detention of U.S. persons – issues that should be addressed now while the United States has leverage.

“Additionally, there must be no sanctions relief or the unfreezing of assets as a precondition for negotiations. I’m troubled by what I hear are discussions between the administration and South Korea as far as unfreezing some of those assets. That will not be helpful, I don’t believe.

“To think you can enter into so-called follow up agreements on the issues that I just discussed – terrorism, ballistic missiles, and detention of U.S. persons – anyone who would think that you could enter into follow-up agreements with Iran after a nuclear agreement I really believe is delusional.

“It’s been proven in the past that that didn’t work. It didn’t work then, it’s not going to work now, and it’s all because of the Iranian’s mindset on these issues. If you enter into a nuclear deal without dealing with these other malign activities, that is a delusional activity and I believe once again we’ll walk away bamboozled by the Iranians.

“The Biden Administration must demonstrate that it has learned from the mistakes of the past. I know we’re going to struggle again if we get to an agreement point on how that agreement is ratified by America. I know everyone here has seen what’s happened in the past. If indeed this is a partisan agreement, three years from now we’ll see a cadre of Republicans trying to get the nomination to run as the party standard bearer.

“Once again they’ll go along the line and say “well what will you do with it?” They’ll say, “Well I’m going to set it on fire.” The next guy will say, “Well I’m gonna shred it.” The next guy will say, “Well I’m going to put it on the floor and stomp on it.” That’s what happened last time and of course we wound up where we wound up with that. This needs to be something that is embraced by all of us, not one of the parties. We’ll wind up again where we are.

“I can’t tell you how many times, I think all of us had this experience, where our European partners would come in and say, “Well you know America, you breached your agreement that you entered into.” I kept telling them, “You did not have an agreement with America. You had an agreement with Barack Obama and with John Kerry.”

“An agreement with America is a treaty that goes through the United States Senate and is ratified by a vote by the United States Senate. I know the administration has already said that’s a non-starter. I’m unhappy to hear that, but hopefully at least we’ll have very close to unanimous agreement under the agreement as we go forward.

“Finally, I want to briefly address the administrative role of the deputy secretary positions. If we didn’t appreciate the importance of U.S. global health security before, we certainly must now. As the deputies charged with coordinating policy and resources, it will be incumbent upon you to ensure that the Department is organized and resourced to lead global health diplomacy, and to coordinate the implementation of a coherent global health security strategy overseas. I can’t underscore enough how important this is on global health.

“It will also be imperative that you seek reforms to the Department where necessary. My staff and I have heard from numerous current and former diplomats over the last few years about how difficult it is to get outside of our embassies and consulates abroad to meet with locals. The Department’s approach has been so cautious that it often stops our diplomats from doing their jobs.

“I assure you, Chinese, Russian, and Iranian diplomats are not having these issues. In order to stay ahead of our adversaries and advance our interests, the State Department needs to rebalance its risk tolerance as far as ambassadors and other people being able to get out from the embassies to do their jobs.

“I also look forward to working with you as the Department establishes an Office of Sanctions Coordination pursuant to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which should strengthen the role of the Department in the development and implementation of sanctions policy. This has been a matter on tension between the first and second branches for some time. Hopefully the act will smooth that out.

“I welcome your views on all of these important issues.

“Again, I thank you both for being here today, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these important matters.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on