September 22, 2021

Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Nominations Hearing for Assistant Secretary of State for DRL, Ambassadors to Israel, Canada, Costa Rica, New Zealand

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. The first panel consisted of the Honorable Thomas R. Nides, nominee to be ambassador to the State of Israel, Mr. David L. Cohen, nominee to be ambassador to Canada, and Dr. Cynthia Ann Telles, nominee to be ambassador to the Republic of Costa Rica. The second panel consisted of Ms. Sarah Margon, nominee to be assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor, and the Honorable Tom Udall, nominee to be ambassador to New Zealand.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks for the first panel:

“Well thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your comments regarding nominations. They’re always difficult. And, as I have said publically and privately to you, I have been a governor and I know how important nominations are and it’s impossible to govern if you don’t have your team in place.

“I do want to review, however, the record on the numbers.

“First of all, I’m going to compare the 116 th Congress to the 117 th Congress. In the 116 th Congress, the average Senate Foreign Relations Committee nominations processing time, with you as the ranking member, was 94 days. On the average Senate Foreign Relations Committee nominations processing time in the 117th Congress so far, with me as the ranking member, it’s been 44 days – 50 days less. The average processing time is obviously, and clearly, 50 days less. The numbers don’t lie.

“On some specifics, take for instance the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor, the Trump nominee, Robert Destro, was 276 days. The Biden nominee, Sarah Margon, was 76 days.

“The U.S. UN representative, Andrew Bremberg was 245, the Trump nominee. And under this administration, the Biden nominee, Bathsheba Crocker, was 56 days.

“The under secretary for civilian security, democracy, and human rights, Marshall Billingslea was 378 days. Uzra Zeya was 34 days.

“U.S. for Arms Control, under President Trump, Marshall Billingslea was 244 days. Bonnie Jenkins, under this administration, was 34 days.

“Ambassador to Mexico, Chris Landau, was 57 days under Trump. Ken Salazar, under this administration, for ambassador to Mexico was 17 days. 

“The number of days from file complete to business meeting for U.S. management department secretary for management, Brian Bulatao, was 319 days. The Biden nominee, Brian McKeon, was 18 days.

“The assistant secretary for political military affairs, Clarke Cooper, under Trump nominee was 260 days. Whereas Jessica Lewis was 49 days as the Biden nominee.

“The assistant secretary for near eastern affairs, David Schenker, the Trump nominee, was almost one year – 358 days. Barbara Leaf was 68 days.

“Other key positions held by Democrats during the Trump Administration, the legal adviser to the Department of State, CJ Mahoney, was 187 days from file complete to hearing. Sarah Cleveland, file has not been complete.

“The ambassador to Pakistan, Bill Todd, the Trump nominee, was 188 days from file complete to hearing. Of course, there has been no [Biden] nominee.

“Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent that this matrix be entered into the record.

“I commit to you to continue to work as best I can, again, realizing that there is always a stress on these. We take our vetting responsibility seriously just as you did when the president was another party – I respect that, I appreciate it, and we are going to continue to do the best we can to vet these people and as quickly as we possibly can.

“Moving to the panel that we have before us today. I want to thank the nominees, and of course their families, for the sacrifice that they will share.

“On the nomination for ambassador to Israel – Israel is America’s most vital ally in a very turbulent region. It faces serious threats, and it’s in the national security interests of the United States to ensure Israel is adequately equipped to meet these challenges. I am deeply disappointed that the House of Representatives has attempted to pull the Iron Dome funding from the continuing resolution, and expect the Senate will remedy that issue very quickly.

“Since the Biden Administration took office, we have seen no movement to expand or strengthen the Abraham Accords. I think most everyone that moves in the area of foreign relations agrees that the Abraham Accords were tremendous steps forward in the relationship we have and others have in the Middle East. Many of us have concerns that the administration has instead doubled down on the failed Palestinian policies of the past.

“I am also disappointed the administration continues to provide assistance to the Palestinians without securing any concessions on the egregious pay-to-slay program. Instead of normalizing this appalling practice through deeper relations with the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization, the administration should pursue changes in Palestinian policies that glorify violence and terrorism.

“I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these important issues.

“On the nomination for ambassador to Canada – first of all I appreciated the opportunity to meet personally with the nominee. We discussed the importance of a couple of issues that are important to me and important to America. One is the Columbia River Treaty, the other is the opening the Canadian border. I was pleased to hear his thoughts on that, and he appeared to be on board as far as both issues are concerned.

“The Columbia River Treaty remains an important issue to the entire northwest delegation. I expect that you will prioritize these negotiations should you be confirmed as we discussed.

“As for the U.S.-Canadian border, I am disappointed by the administration’s decision on Monday to extend restrictions on non-essential travel from Canada to the United States at land ports of entry. These restrictions are causing significant economic and emotional distress to communities, such as those in North Idaho, that depend on well-regulated cross-border traffic. The administration should reconsider this decision and reopen our land border with Canada as soon as possible.

“Finally, the nomination of ambassador to Costa Rica – Costa Rica is an outpost of democratic governance in Central America, and a valuable trade, security, and diplomatic partner. As many as 50,000 Americans call Costa Rica home, in large part due to its political and economic stability.

“Nevertheless, Costa Rica’s democratic model has come under acute pressure due to instability generated by the Ortega regime in Nicaragua and the COVID-19 epidemic. Costa Rica has also sought deeper relations with China, which comes with its own set of challenges.

“I hope to hear your plan to manage those U.S. relations with this strategic partner in Central America.

“Thank you.”

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks for the second panel:

“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I want to speak briefly on both nominees, and then of course questions. 

“First, it will come probably as no surprise to many that the nominee for assistant secretary of State for democracy, human rights, and labor is going to be very difficult and a heavy lift for me to support. The nominee has made some deeply troubling public statements related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and funding to biased organizations in Gaza – which I am going to ask some questions on.

“The nominee also told my staff, surprisingly, that she feels both the Biden and Trump administrations’ air strikes against Iranian proxy targets were illegal. This view is against those of the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and legal advice spanning both administrations.

“If this is the kind of advice she’s going give the secretary, it’s going to be very difficult to support her.

“Further, the nominee publically congratulated a private company for participating in the BDS movement against Israel and urged other companies to do likewise. She also tweeted in support of a July 2020 New York Times op-ed entitled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” We’ll talk about that when we get to questions.

“On to the nomination for ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. It’s good to see you, Senator Udall and your lovely wife.

“I talked to Senator Brown this morning and he feels that you have won the lottery and have been sentenced to paradise.

“If confirmed, you would be charged with stewardship of our relationships with these two nations where we’ve seen malign influence from the People’s Republic of China and where there is room for our partnerships to grow. I look forward to hearing your priorities on these issues.

“China recently submitted information to New Zealand to join the Comprehensive Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Yet we have seen the PRC use its economic might to coerce and bully its neighbors in the region. I am therefore skeptical of the PRC’s ability to be a good trade partner.

“This development also reminds us of the importance of a strong U.S. economic and trade agenda in the Indo-Pacific region – a key element of the Strategic Competition Act passed by the Senate earlier this year. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on that. Again, good to see you.

“Thank you. Mr. Chairman.”

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

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