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 hearing on the FY24 State Department budget request. The witness included U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for always being willing to take our calls when we have important issues to discuss. I sincerely appreciate that, and although we don’t always agree, it’s good to talk and see if we can’t find middle ground to get to what usually is a common interest and common objective.
“These days, there is no shortage of complex issues in foreign relations – including Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine to China’s ongoing attempts to coerce and dominate nations across the globe. The American people need a State Department that is fully capable of advancing interests and values of all Americans.
“This will only increase in the future as China becomes a greater and greater challenge for us. We should all remember that it is the first challenge that we have, even though we have other things going on, like the Ukraine war, which are very important to us. We can do more than one thing at a time. China is still the challenge of the century.
“The Department needs to be efficient and effective with taxpayer dollars, and use the authorities provided by Congress. For example, my Global Health Security Act, signed into law late last year, provided State with substantial new authorities.
“The bill created a coordinator for global health security at the Department, with the power to reduce redundancy, eliminate waste, and ensure unity of effort. Remarkably, the Department provided zero funding for the coordinator. I hope you’re going to talk about this a little bit today. I suspect you are since you and I have talked about it at some length previously.
“We also enacted my Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act which allows our diplomats more freedom to leave the embassy and do their job, while dramatically reducing the costs of embassies. The authorities provided in SECCA should enhance our presence in places like the Pacific Islands, where we are directly competing with the Chinese government for influence.
“Secretary Blinken, I hope to hear how the Department is utilizing these authorities and implementing these laws, because I remain concerned.
“On Russia and its brutal war – I have visited Kyiv and seen first-hand the destruction and the resilience of the Ukrainian people, as well as the work State Department personnel are doing to advance our security. There is clearly more that needs to be done though.
“The administration should stop its dithering and follow the lead of allies like Poland and send the F-16s. I don’t want to see this administration push for a ceasefire in December because not enough is being provided now. It’s important that the help be provided now.
“Also, while I have consistently advocated for giving Ukraine more of the systems it needs to win, I have also been clear that we must conduct rigorous oversight to ensure our aid is effective, as well as transparent and accountable to the American taxpayer. I’ve had direct conversations with President Zelenskyy about this and he knows that we’re serious about this.
“We should increase embassy staffing and enable our diplomats to get out and conduct more oversight of the assistance dollars. More personnel are needed for end use monitoring of critical weapons systems. And Washington needs to stop telling our team in Ukraine when and where they can go to monitor this.
“There are currently 64 ongoing or planned audits and reports on U.S. assistance in Ukraine, and so far, there has been no evidence of illicit weapons transfers or misuse of taxpayer dollars.
“Turning to the Indo-Pacific – I have long said we need better resourcing. I welcome the Department’s request for increased funding. However, I remain concerned this money will be directed towards promoting the Democrat Party’s progressive priorities, rather than actually countering China, which is the primary objective.
“The Biden Administration must tell Congress what all this money is for. Right now, without further details, it looks like slush funds for the administration’s desires.
“On Taiwan – I am troubled, but not surprised, that the budget request lacks robust security assistance for Taiwan. Relegating Taiwan to a sliver of $16 million in total FMF funding is unserious, and frankly offensive, given the threats emanating from China.
“Relatedly, in the Middle East, it’s clear that the administration is failing to compete with China. I just returned from the region, and the administration’s policies, across the board, have created great concerns for our partners there.
“Our partners continually point to an Iran policy that undermines their security, an Afghanistan withdrawal that makes them doubt American commitment, this administration’s slow embrace of the Abraham Accords, and increasingly restrictive arms sales – all evidence, they argue, of a retreating America. It’s difficult to persuade them otherwise in the face of the evidence.
“The recent deal between Saudi Arabia, China and Iran proves the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines. Instead of fixing its approach, the administration blames our partners for this outcome.
“After all, great power competition is global. As a nation that has fought in both Europe and the Pacific, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. Focusing on China is important, but as I’ve said for a long, long time, that doesn’t mean we turn our backs on the Middle East.
“Finally, as you’ve just returned from Africa, I’d like to hear how you plan to deliver on U.S. commitments on the continent, including those made at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. We can only deliver if we have sufficient personnel and tools to conduct our diplomacy and development effectively.
“Many issues, I have no doubt you’re up to the task of explaining them all to us in detail. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.