Menendez Remarks at Nomination Hearing for Deputy Secretary of State

Menendez Remarks at Nomination Hearing for Deputy Secretary of State

“If confirmed, you will be responsible, likely as Acting Secretary of State, for U.S. foreign policy and the management of the State Department…Your credibility will be on the line.”

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered opening remarks and questioned Stephen E. Biegun at a committee hearing examining his nomination to be Deputy Secretary of State.

“As we discussed last week, the Deputy Secretary position is crucial to the functioning of the Department and to advancing U.S. foreign policy. Given the expectation that Secretary Pompeo will leave the Department early next year to run for Senate and that, if confirmed, you will be the Acting Secretary of State for quite some time, your nomination takes on even greater significance.” said Menendez. “These are incredibly difficult assignments given the current state of affairs. From my perspective, the relationship between the Committee and the Department is at a low point. We are not provided the information we need to satisfy our oversight role, and that has to change.  Our career civil service and foreign service professionals have been debased and demoralized, that also has to change, and you have been nominated for this post at a time of unparalleled chaos in American foreign policy, the likes of which I can’t recall in my more than three decades in Congress. And that too needs to change.”

As Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the E.U., was providing pivotal testimony before the House of Representatives confirming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s role in the Trump-Ukraine scandal, Senator Menendez questioned Mr. Biegun whether he, if confirmed, would also go along with the President’s flagrant abuse of power. Menendez also demanded answers as to whether Mr. Biegun would support Secretary Pompeo’s concerted effort to obstruct the House inquiry into the Trump-Ukraine scandal.

“Given Secretary Pompeo’s direct involvement in the [Trump-Ukraine] scandal, I called on him to recuse weeks ago,” added Senator Menendez. “I expect at some point soon he will realize it is untenable to continue making decisions about document production in a matter in which he is directly implicated. So, Mr. Biegun, you may very well be on the hook for making decisions about cooperation with lawful congressional subpoenas and I look forward to hearing how you plan to comply.”

Senator Menendez’s full opening remarks as delivered can be found below:

“Mr. Biegun congratulations on your nomination. Thank you for the service you’ve rendered to our country, we appreciate it and we look forward to discussing your nomination to serve as Deputy Secretary of State. 

Now, I am compelled to begin by addressing the Trump-Ukraine scandal that has gripped the nation. The public testimony we have heard over the last two weeks has detailed the weaponization of U.S. foreign policy and national security for the personal and political gain of  President Trump.

As you know Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union is currently testifying as part of the House impeachment inquiry. Among other things, he has made it clear that Secretary Pompeo was fully aware of the President’s corrupt scheme.

So while completely unacceptable, it is sadly not surprising that Secretary Pompeo has obstructed the House inquiry and has refused to produce even a single document to Congress. 

Given Secretary Pompeo’s direct involvement in the scandal, I called on him to recuse weeks ago.  I expect at some point soon he will realize it is untenable to continue making decisions about document production in a matter in which he is directly implicated. So, Mr. Biegun, you may very well be on the hook for making decisions about cooperation with lawful congressional subpoenas and I look forward to hearing how you plan to comply. 

As we discussed last week, the Deputy Secretary position is crucial to the functioning of the Department and to advancing U.S. foreign policy. Given the expectation that Secretary Pompeo will leave the Department early next year to run for Senate and that, if confirmed, you will be the Acting Secretary of State for quite some time, your nomination takes on even greater significance. 

Now you have deep experience in foreign policy and national security matters, and I am hopeful that, if confirmed, you will rely on that experience in carrying out your duties.

As a former staff director on this Committee, you know what it means for the Committee and the Department to engage meaningfully on foreign policy and the results that can deliver for the American people. I want you to ensure that engagement.

As a State Department official, you have worked side-by-side with our career diplomats, so you know first-hand what a dedicated and talented team the Department and our embassies and consulates around the world have. I want you to value and protect them.

And, as foreign policy professional in prior Administrations, you have seen how a robust State Department advances and protects U.S. national security. I want you to strive for this role to ensure that the Department is playing that exact role, and that diplomacy is once again treated as a critical component national security decision-making. 

These are incredibly difficult assignments given the current state of affairs. From my perspective, the relationship between the Committee and the Department is at a low point. We are not provided the information we need to satisfy our oversight role, and that has to change.  Our career civil service and foreign service professionals have been debased and demoralized, that also has to change, and you have been nominated for this post at a time of unparalleled chaos in American foreign policy, the likes of which I can’t recall in my more than three decades in Congress. And that too needs to change.

So if confirmed, you will be responsible, likely as Acting Secretary of State, for U.S. foreign policy and the management of the State Department.

Your credibility will be on the line.

In my view, this administration’s actions have undermined our ability to promote American foreign policy and national security interests, betrayed our values, and has made our citizens, our partners and the world less safe.

Far from America first, it is leaving American isolated, corrupted, and behind.

Let me start with my serious ongoing concerns about the state of the State Department itself.

The Department that you will inherit is one with plummeting morale, an insufficient budget which the administration has repeatedly, over congressional objections, tried to cut, a culture in which political retaliation against career civil servants has gone unchecked, a sharp drop in new foreign service applications, and a hollowed out senior diplomatic corps.

If you are confirmed as Deputy Secretary I hope fixing these problems will be your first job.

Let me move on to one or two policy areas. Senior members of the intelligence community continue to point to “incontrovertible” proof of Russia’s interference in our 2016 elections, yet the President still refuses to acknowledge their attack on our democracy. And everywhere we turn it is hard to imagine a bigger winner these past several years than Mr. Putin.

While many in Congress and around the world agree with the Administration that our policy with China needs adjustment, and we want to work to advance that goal, there is no evidence that the administration’s efforts have led China to change its actions in the South China Sea, address the structural issues at play in our trade relationship, or address its worsening human rights and governance behavior.

You have dedicated the past few year of your life trying to reach a denuclearized North Korea, for which we applaud you, but North Korea is on track this year to conduct more nuclear capable ballistic missile tests than ever, and President Trump has undone our defensive alliance, military exercises, shaking the confidence of our allies and partners.

And while you talk about “restoring deterrence” against Iran’s aggression, there is no sign of comprehensive strategy to counter Iran’s growing influence throughout the regime, even as Iran’s proxy fighters grow more aggressive on all fronts against the Israeli border.

And, in the Western Hemisphere while the President says he wants to confront the root causes of migration, drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic he has repeatedly tried to cripple our counter-narcotics, law enforcement, and development operations in the Northern Triangle and Mexico. All we are left with are derogatory, hateful, and racist tweets. Tweets that will ultimately leave Americans more at risk and the region more unstable. 

While along with the President we support Juan Guaido and want a peaceful end to the Maduro regime, we need to do more to address the fate of the millions of Venezuelans fleeing their country and the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans that are in the United States in desperate need of Temporary Protected Status.

And in so many other areas – from climate change, to the United Nations, to human rights we are abdicating American leadership.

The Administration appears to have completely written off the entire continent of Africa. We are absent in South Sudan and we are not doing enough to combat Russian malign influence or to provide an alternative to China.  China and Russia are hosting African Heads of State at summits. In contrast, we have a Secretary of State who has spent plenty of time in Kansas, but outside of Egypt has barely set foot on the continent since his confirmation.

I can keep going, but I think you get the point of how I feel. Mr. Biegun, It does not have to be this way -- and I hope it gets better. There are serious people on this Committee – on both sides of the aisle – who are committed to advancing our national security and to the values that have truly made America great: democracy, governance, labor, human right, transparency. And if you are confirmed, our door will be open. I hope that you will take advantage.”    

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