July 10, 2018

VIDEO: Menendez Rebukes Pres. Trump Ahead of NATO and Putin Summits

“In the absence of U.S. presidential leadership, I want to make clear to our allies abroad as well as our adversaries in the Kremlin as to where members in the United States Senate stand… We stand with NATO. We stand with our allies.”

WASHINGTON –Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was joined today by a group of his Democratic colleagues in speaking on the Senate Floor to express their support for the NATO alliance and against Russia’s ongoing aggressions across the world. The Senator laid out his expectations for President Trump’s travel to Europe, where he is scheduled to attend a NATO Summit in Brussels and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Below are his remarks as delivered:

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“I want to start by thanking my colleagues for joining me on the floor to voice their support for the NATO alliance. Once again, we find ourselves facing a crisis of President Trump’s own creation.

For nearly 70 years, NATO has served as a pillar of stability and security for the United States and our democratic allies across Europe. It was there as Europe rebuilt after World War II. It was there to win the Cold War. It was there to defend the United States after 9/11.

Yet today, for the first time since World War II, an American President has given our closest allies in Europe reason to question the trustworthiness of the United States and our reliability as a NATO partner.  

President Trump’s slapdash approach to foreign policy, born out of heated campaign rallies instead of thoughtful cabinet meetings, has real implications for our national security. 

Such reckless behavior by President Trump has weakened the United States on the global stage and created a more dangerous world for our citizens and our troops serving abroad. 

Today, the President is on his way to Europe. And his intentions are clear.

President Trump will use every opportunity that comes his way to admonish our allies, alienate our closest friends, and degrade the post-World War II international order in the hopes of winning favor with the dictator from Moscow. 

In fact, the president this morning said that his easiest meeting during the trip would probably be with Vladimir Putin. 

Easy because they share common values?  Easy because he wants to be Putin’s friend?  Easy because Trump would rather deal with an autocrat than negotiate with democratically-elected leaders? 

Let’s be clear. Meeting with a thug intent on undermining American democratic values should not be easy. It should not be chummy.

Yet as National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reportedly said, ‘The president thinks he can be friends with Putin. I don’t know why, or why he would want to be.’

I agree General. It makes no sense. Attacking American democracy is not exactly an act of friendship.

We know the circumstances are dire. The leaders of our intelligence community and the entire Senate Intelligence Committee, on a bipartisan basis, have concluded that Russia not only attacked the United States in 2016 through cyber efforts, but continues to sow discord and destabilize institutions at the very of heart American democracy.

Yet to this day, President Trump continues to take Putin at his word. With his warm embrace of the Russian dictator, many of us find ourselves questioning the President’s true loyalties. 

And it’s no surprise that our allies in Europe are questioning the loyalty and commitment of the United States to the post-World War II international order.

In the absence of U.S. presidential leadership, I want to make clear to our allies abroad as well as our adversaries in the Kremlin as to where members in the United States Senate stand:

We stand for the rule of law and an international order based on liberal democratic values. 

We stand for security alliances among democracies based on mutual defense against our enemies.

We stand against dictators that invade their neighbors with soldiers and cyber-attacks. 

And we stand with our friends through thick and thin.

Tomorrow on the Foreign Relations Committee, we expect to make such declarations explicit with a bipartisan resolution affirming that U.S. national security is inextricably linked to the security of Europe. 

We are not schmucks, President Trump, for leading an alliance that has brought peace and security for decades in the wake of two devastating world wars. 

The Foreign Relations Committee will reaffirm a commitment to Article Five of the NATO charter which says that an attack on one is an attack on all. 

We recognize that since Article Five took effect, it has only been triggered once – by and in support of the United States following the 9/11 attack. 

And to this day, nearly 17 years later NATO troops still serve in Afghanistan in support of the American effort.

These countries have all sent their sons and daughters to fight and die alongside ours. 

They stand with us – and we with them – against extremism, terrorism, and authoritarianism, and proudly in support of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.

Members of the NATO alliance have been steadily increasing their defense spending for the past four years - in reaction to Putin’s invasion of Crimea and the implications for regional security… not Trump’s bluster.  Our allies understand the threat posed by a dictator who tears away territory from its neighbors – The question is: does President Trump? Is there more work to be done to meet the 2% commitment in countries across the alliance?  

Of course, but we need to acknowledge the progress that has been made and the trend lines are headed in the right direction.  Let’s not jeopardize those trends by insulting the very leaders we need by our side.

So this week in Brussels the President should do something that he’s proven completely incapable of thus far.

He should thank our allies for their steadfastness. For their resilience. For their commitment to working with us to counter the threat posed by Russia.

President Trump should work with our allies to collectively increase sanctions on Moscow.

He should work with NATO to build our collective cyber defenses against the onslaught of Russian cyber-attacks and disinformation.

These are all things he should do. Things that a normal American president would do.

But, based on the tweets and his past actions I have little hope that he will choose such a path.

The president should also work with our allies to continue the fight against ISIS.  NATO countries form the core of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. 

NATO governments host working groups, contribute resources, participate in air strikes, provide stabilization assistance, and face serious challenges in addressing the plight of foreign fighters. 

In Iraq, NATO is working to share more responsibility in training the Iraqi Security Forces – this is exactly how strategic partnerships are supposed to work. 

We identify challenges, cooperate on solutions, and share the burden of funding, troop deployments, and assistance in support of a shared objective – in this case a stable, unified Iraq that can stand up to Iran. 

In Syria, NATO should be a natural ally in countering Russian and Iranian aggression.  Despite regular irrefutable evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Bashar al Assad, Putin continues to bolster the Butcher of Damascus. 

In fact, Russian forces are directly complicit in targeting civilians and civilian structures in Syria.  These are facts that cannot be ignored.

Russian forces are actively working with Assad’s regime to bomb opposition in southern Syria into submission – these military operations are taking place today, inside the very de-escalation zone that President Trump touted last year with Putin in Vietnam. 

These developments have led to the largest displacement of civilians in southern Syria since the beginning of this war!  The president must make clear once and for all that Russia is not a constructive partner on Syria, it is a willing accomplice and perpetrator of war crimes.  

Our friends in Ukraine are fighting for their country on a daily basis with Russian troops.  As the globe focuses on the World Cup in Russia, at least 17 Ukrainian troops have been killed or injured in their own country by Russian forces.  Killed or injured in their own county.

We are helping our Ukrainian friends with training and equipment.  Under no circumstances can this aid be diminished in any way -- President Trump needs to understand that any attempt to do so will be met with strong and unified opposition in the Senate. 

President Trump can never lose sight of the importance of Eastern Ukraine, nor can he forget the plight of so many Crimeans that suffer under Russian repression to this day.      

Today I introduced a resolution with Senator Portman calling for the U.S. to declare a policy of non-recognition of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

This idea is modeled on the Welles Declaration which said that the U. S. would never recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. The Welles Declaration meant something to the beleaguered people of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all of whom yearned to be free of Moscow’s repression. And today, they are free.

It represented the United States’ commitment to the territorial integrity of independent countries. Today we have the same opportunity to send the same message to those courageous Ukrainian citizens living in Crimea.

President Trump was reported to have said that the people of Crimea want to be part of Russia because they speak Russian.

Instead of misinformed judgements from the president, we and the world need clear leadership that says definitively to President Putin that we will not stand for his illegal occupation of Crimea.

We will not stand by in the face of ongoing attacks in eastern Ukraine by Russian forces.

We will not stand by while President Putin participates in the commission of war crimes in Syria.

And we will not stand by while Russia attacks democratic institutions here in the US and those of our closest allies. 

I hope that our president will meet with Putin in Helsinki and express these simple and powerful statements. Yet nothing in his track record gives me much hope that he will do so.

We have a President who is so enamored of Putin that he still to this day refuses to criticize the Russian leader.

A president who sought early in term to lift sanctions on Russia.

A president who has questioned Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea.

A president who routinely trashes partners in the strongest military alliance the world has ever seen.

This behavior is bizarre, erratic and is no reflection of who we are as a country, or a people. 

In closing, I would remind the President that the Russia sanctions law, CAATSA, restricts his ability to unilaterally lift sanctions on Russia. 

Such a move would be subject to congressional approval.  So as he embarks on his ‘easiest meeting’ with Vladimir Putin, he is constrained by a law that was supported by 98 Senators. 

We know that Putin seeks sanctions relief.  We must make clear that such relief will only come when he withdraws from Ukraine, returns Crimea, ends his support for Bashar al Assad and stops interfering in our elections. 

As someone who is personally sanctioned by Vladimir Putin, I will not stop in working to ensure that the CAATSA law is fully implemented by our administration.

The hallmark struggle of our times is between those who champion democracy and autocrats who use repression, military invasions and disinformation and to achieve their nefarious ends.  And this week, this battle comes into sharp contrast. 

Will our president side with our democratic allies in Brussels?

Will he side with the autocrat in the Kremlin? 

Either way, the world needs to that the U.S. Senate has made its view clear. 

We stand with NATO. 

We stand with our allies. 

We stand for democracy and the rule of law. 

And we stand with the international liberal order that has kept the peace for decades. 

We stand on these values today and will never never shy away from their defense

With that M. President, I yield the floor. 

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