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 FY2023 State Department budget request. The committee heard witness testimony from The Honorable Antony J. Blinken, secretary of State.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Secretary, thank you for visiting with us today. And, on a personal note, thank you for visiting with Senator Menendez and I earlier and giving us your thoughts on your visit there and the systems that are operating in Ukraine.
“At the present time, as the world becomes more dangerous and complicated, we need the State Department to prioritize national security diplomacy and effectively spend taxpayer money to defend U.S. national interests.
“Now is the time for the department to rebalance its risk calculus and get our diplomats back in the field, particularly in Ukraine, to advance U.S. values and interests, and compete against adversaries across the globe.
“However, in certain places like China, the Biden Administration appears to be recalcitrant, giving up the privileges and immunities that keep them and their families safe in order to appease Beijing’s extreme response to COVID.
“I have heard reports of U.S. diplomats forced into government-run “fever hospitals” for lengthy periods, living in squalid conditions, and being forced to take medical tests for no legitimate reason. In response, the administration has not moved on this and it should.
“Against this backdrop, we’ve been asked to consider whether the funding priorities set out in the president’s FY2023 budget request align with our most pressing national security interests.
“Just as last year, there are bright spots.
“For example, while I have major concerns about the ambiguous request for $6.5 billion in mandatory spending, I do appreciate the emphasis on global health security within the discretionary budget. Chairman Menendez and I continue to advance legislation to improve international pandemic preparedness and response, and I urge the administration to help us align those efforts.
“I am disappointed by the failure to present a concrete proposal to reform U.S. international food aid – particularly in light of the global food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine. I am, however, pleased to hear the administration is open to ideas, let’s get to work on that.
“However, overall, the request continues a destructive pattern of asking for more resources to advance policies that run counter to U.S. interests – including for energy projects utilizing slave labor from Xinjiang; providing billions of dollars to an unaccountable Green Climate Fund; and proposing to increase U.S. contributions for UN peacekeeping in contravention of the historic Helms-Biden agreement. Meanwhile, this budget request undercuts security and humanitarian assistance.
“Mr. Secretary, I am very glad that you and Secretary Austin went to Kyiv just a few days ago to show U.S. support for Ukraine. Our embassy needs to open up again. All our European partners are already back there. We need people on the ground to help Ukraine meet its needs immediately and I was impressed by your description of what you found there that would certainly open the door for us to reopen our embassy there.
“Despite the unprecedented military assistance that the U.S. and our allies have sent to Ukraine, there is still more we can do.
“The tenor of this war has changed and Ukraine needs different items than they did just one month ago. I urge the administration to transfer more advanced capabilities, including U.S.-origin multiple launch rocket systems, medium-range air defense systems, and anti-ship cruise missiles, among others things, and I was impressed with what you reported to us in confidence this morning.
“During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, Russia provided our enemies with aircraft and trained the enemy’s pilots. It’s high-time we return that favor.
“Further, we must see expedited production of our new systems to backfill our allies and deter Russia, new sanctions and tighter export controls to starve the Russia war machine, and expanded humanitarian assistance. It is time to act aggressively, not perform another deep dive that will take months to complete.
“After its victory, Ukraine will need extensive support to rebuild the country. The State Department should plan now for this huge undertaking which will require participation from the entire civilized world.
“This all relates in a very real way with the U.S. response to China’s ambitions – the most important challenge facing the United States today. We started too late in providing security assistance to Ukraine, and we cannot make the same mistake with Taiwan. Supporting an island during a war is much more difficult. Our assistance must be there beforehand.
“We must accelerate existing Foreign Military Sales to Taiwan so they get there quicker, and we should use security assistance to help Taiwan acquire additional capabilities. I have introduced language to do this. We need it now.
“In March, Chairman Menendez and I spearheaded an effort to get funding into the appropriations package for security assistance to Taiwan. And I fully agree with Senator Shelby’s recent comments that we should “absolutely” spend more to help with Taiwan’s defense. Secretary Blinken – I hope you can commit to that during today’s hearing.
“Turning to the Middle East, it’s clear that America’s relationship with our Middle East partners is in desperate need of some work. These are long-time partnerships that we really need to maintain.
“Instead of America as a steadfast partner, our Middle Eastern friends have seen increasingly restrictive security assistance policies, the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, an Iran policy that fails to deter regional terrorism, and a previously lukewarm embrace of the Abraham Accords. The Biden Administration’s Middle East policies have reinforced a claim of American disengagement and pushed our longstanding partners toward China and Russia. This cannot happen.
“In Syria , we’ve seen a lack of Caesar sanctions enforcement. While our administration is not explicitly encouraging normalization with Assad, it is clear there are no repercussions for others doing so. We cannot ignore this or teach the world that a despot and murderer can be rehabilitated just by hanging on for a long period of time.
“On Iran, we’ve been on the cusp of a nuclear deal for several weeks apparently. Given the sunsets and short-term gains of rejoining the JCPOA, Israel, the Gulf, other members of Congress have voiced loud opposition to rejoining the 2015 accord. Our Iran policy must be one that can survive successive administrations and one both parties can support.
“To accomplish this, you need to get it right. From what we are seeing and what we are being told right now, you are in the process of getting it wrong – again. No other issue divides this administration from Congress and U.S. allies more than this issue. You can’t get it right, and it looks like you’re not – walk away from this. That will be victory and you will be applauded for that.
“No agreement is far better than a bad one. Israel will see that Iran never completes a nuclear weapon.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.