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Chairman Menendez Remarks on the Failure to Confirm Ambassadorial Nominees due to Republican Obstructionism

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement as prepared for delivery, on the Senate floor regarding the Senate’s inability to confirm ambassadorial nominees due to Republican obstructionism. 

“I rise for the 42 well-qualified and very patient nominees who through no fault of their own, no fault of the Foreign Relations Committee, no fault of their records of service to this nation – are caught in the Senate – trapped on the Executive Calendar unable to assume their appointed posts because the Republican leadership has chosen obstructionism as a political tool.

“They have consciously chosen a strategy to do nothing, pass nothing, approve nothing, and leave key diplomatic posts unfilled for months -- threatening national security and our ability to conduct foreign policy.

“Those who say Congress is broken are wrong. Congress isn’t broken, but the Republican leadership wants you to believe it is – and they are using every parliamentary tool to make certain we cannot fill key foreign posts – and the world waits, American foreign policy waits, diplomacy waits, our allies wait for the Republicans to let these nominees and their families have some closure and get to work.

“The blame for these posts being left vacant – for these people being in political limbo - rests squarely on the shoulders of Republican leadership.  It is not a problem with Congress or with Democrats or with the President or with my Committee. Never – to my knowledge -- has this body, as a political strategy, obstructed – en masse -- the appointments of non-controversial career Foreign Service officers who have worked for both Democratic and Republican administrations.

“Never have we held up appointments to so many Ambassadorial positions, State Department positions, USAID positions, and representatives to the multilateral development banks. Eighteen of the 42 pending nominees are Ambassadors who would fill important posts in the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Albania, Gabon, Mauritania, Cameroon, Niger, Sierra Leone, Djibouti, and Kuwait.

“Nearly 20 percent of our total ambassadorial presence in Africa is being held-up by Republican leadership. All of them have waited, on average – 280 days for Senate action. That’s unfair to them. It’s unfair to their families. It’s bad policy. It’s unnecessary, irresponsible, and completely unacceptable. And it has to end. It harms our regional coordination on issues like food security and counterterrorism.

“Let’s remember that U.S. leadership plays a major role in supporting peace and security efforts – alongside our development, democracy, and humanitarian goals -- across Africa, and around the world, preventing us from being able to project power and leadership, leaving us – in my view – vulnerable from a national security standpoint.

“In West Africa, the Nigerian terrorist organization Boko Haram is perpetuating a brutal campaign of violence and fear -- kidnapping young women and taking advantage of porous borders with Niger and Cameroon.

“The United States is leading an effort, with our international partners, to improve regional coordination to address both this threat and serious development challenges in the region.

“Unfortunately, the Senate has yet to confirm the Ambassadorial nominees to Niger or Cameroon.

“We need to fill these Ambassadorial positions.

“Mauritania has been a key partner in addressing the terrorist threat posed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Africa’s volatile Sahel region.

“Let’s not forget that the East African nation of Djibouti hosts U.S. Africa Command’s Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) and the U.S. military’s only enduring infrastructure in Africa, Camp Lemonnier home to some 4,000 U.S. service members and civilians. Our cooperation with Djibouti supports counterterrorism efforts against Al-Shabaab in Somalia and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in nearby Yemen and anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.

“Al-Shabaab recently carried out its first terrorist attack in Djibouti, targeting a restaurant frequented by Westerners. Yet our Ambassadorial nominee, Thomas Kelly, remains unconfirmed.

“In addition to supporting peace and security efforts in Africa, the United States also plays a key role supporting democratic governance across the continent, which in turn contributes to greater stability.  Niger and Namibia are set to hold presidential elections within the next nine months and both Ambassadorial nominees have yet to be confirmed by the full Senate.

“At a time when stability in parts of Africa is tenuous at best – with conflicts, famine, and the ever-increasing threat from criminal and terrorist organizations – it is simply not in our national interest to have the President’s nominees – career foreign service officers in many cases -- held-up for political reasons for nearly a year – in so many cases.

“M. President, United States leadership in international organizations is being negatively affected. In fact, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs was reported to the Senate on March 3rd. Her nomination is not the least bit controversial, and yet she has not been confirmed.

“Nominees for posts at the United Nations have been pending for months, including the nominee to be the U.S. Representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament -- who was reported out on March 11th.

“These gaps have affected our credibility around the world, and are affecting U.S. national security.

“It is worth understanding that this list is not static. We are constantly adding nominees to the Executive Calendar. We held hearings for an additional 5 nominees last week. Four more had their hearings today – Chaired by Senator Cardin – including our nominees to be Ambassador to Korea and Vietnam.

“Simply stated, the backlog is weakening America’s role in the world.

“The vast majority of these nominees are uncontroversial. They have passed Committee by voice vote – and are nominations that normally would have gone through the Senate en bloc, by unanimous consent.

“Holding them hostage is simply wrong on every level.

“Never has one Party stood in the way of the full and complete conduct of foreign policy, and it’s time the American people understand who’s to blame for the dysfunction that is holding them hostage for political reasons and as we hold up action on these nominees, the world is convulsing.

“The days are filled with a steady stream of breaking news stories, disheartening images, and trending tweets with reports of unrest in Ukraine, Iraq and Venezuela; mass atrocities in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic; heart wrenching accounts of kidnapped girls in Nigeria and alarming episodes of violence against women in Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world.

“American leadership is expected by the international community during this challenging period.

“Some complain that the United States does too much; others argue we don’t do enough, but always the debate in foreign affairs is centered on our nation and the vital role we fulfill within the international system.

“We live in a new world defined by technological advancement and rapid globalization, but we are history-bound by a deeply imbued duty to provide moral clarity when it appears lacking, of serving as the lighthouse to a community of nations undergoing profound transformation. In one very particular arena, we are failing this charge.

“M. President, because Republican leadership is using obstruction as a political tool, they are forcing us to turn from our vital responsibility of confirming ambassadorial nominees to conduct American foreign policy.

“That means turning from our responsibility in everything from providing emergency services for Americans abroad, to responding to humanitarian crises around the world, to supporting U.S. businesses and our commerce agenda overseas.

“The lack of confirmed ambassadors is crippling our global agenda.

“Consider this: Key U.S.-held positions at the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and other international financial institutions are not filled.

“Seizing the opportunity, Russia and China are actively lobbying IMF members to reduce U.S. ownership share in the Bank. Just recently, Christine Lagarde, IMF Managing Director, said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these days, the IMF was headquartered in Beijing.”

“M. President, no nation can hear what we have to say if we are not there – if we have no voice, and so it is not an overstatement to say that our national security is affected by Republican non-cooperation.

“One example: The Assistant Secretary of State for Verification, Compliance and Implementation tasked with monitoring and verifying our arms control agreements remains empty affecting our ability to design and implement a potential agreement to halt Iran’s illicit nuclear weapons program.   

“Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing for the nominees to serve in Egypt, Iraq, and Qatar. We will soon vote to approve these Foreign Service Officers, but there is no guarantee they will be confirmed expeditiously by the Senate despite the very obvious need for a constant U.S. presence and engagement in these nations. Iraq is on the verge of a civil war and we have no way to quickly confirm Stu Jones, a very qualified nominee who is currently serving in Jordan for that post to replace Robert Beecroft who is headed to Egypt.

“That this scenario is even a possibility given their pending assignments concerns me and should concern all of us. Perhaps their fate will be similar to the nominee to Kuwait, who has not received a confirmation vote for nearly 200 days.

“The Emir of Kuwait recently made a historic visit to Iran. Persistent reports link wealthy Kuwaiti donors to a variety of violent extremist groups fighting in Syria, including the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- the ISIS – that’s threatening Iraq.

“And yet we lack an ambassador's eyes and ears on the ground to provide the analysis we need.

“Of the 42 unconfirmed nominees, almost half are career ambassadors who – as I said earlier -- have served this nation for a lifetime on behalf of Democratic and Republican administrations. Some already were confirmed by the Senate and served as ambassadors in previous posts.

“Since becoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we have debated and then voted to approve over 125 nominees oftentimes unanimously and without discord.

“But apparently the price tag for Leader Reid having to execute “the nuclear option” to get anything done is Republican leadership intransigence that gums up senate proceedings, holds ambassadorial nominees hostage, and goes so far as to harm our national security objectives.

“M. President, this senate standoff is having very negative and real implications in a world beset by chaos and in need of American engagement.

“It must end – and it must end now

“With that, M. President, I yield the floor.”