WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), incoming Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke on the Senate Floor this afternoon urging Senate Republicans to allow a swift confirmation vote this week for Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State:
“The Secretary of State is fourth in the line of succession. Leaving that office vacant is irresponsible,” said Menendez.
Below are Senator Menendez’s remarks as delivered.
“I come to the Floor today to urge the swift confirmation for Tony Blinken to be the Secretary of State.
Like we saw with Avril Haines yesterday, and moving towards Lloyd Austin today, we need to hold a Floor vote on Mr. Blinken’s nomination urgently. Mr. Blinken is well known to the Senate, having previously been confirmed as Deputy Secretary of State, having served as the Deputy National Security Advisor, and, of course, as the Staff Director of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before that.
He is superbly qualified to be the Secretary of State and his knowledge and thoughtfulness were on display during five hours of testimony earlier this week and since then has been asked to respond to hundreds of questions.
As a matter of fact, he has had an inordinate number of questions that have been put to him for the record. He had nearly over half a hundred before his hearing. He has had – from a couple of our colleagues – nearly 600 questions, including multiple parts to those questions. And to my knowledge, he has largely answered them all, notwithstanding the size – the magnitude – of them.
Now I have been – since I arrived in this institution – one of the big advocates of the prerogatives of each and every individual Senator, and of the institution, so I take a back step to no one, but there's a difference between prerogatives and prerogatives that are abused, which in essence are for the purpose of ultimately going ahead…Which are for the purpose not of seeking information but for the purpose of delaying a nomination.
Now I appreciate that Senator Risch, the present chairman of the committee, has been working with me to try to accelerate Mr. Blinken’s nomination to the Floor.
But I would ask my colleagues, particularly those on the Committee, to join he and I in an effort to bring one of the important national security positions in our government to the Floor for a vote.
I don't think we should be leaving this weekend without a vote for the Secretary of State.
He is the right person to repair and restore our alliances. To rebuild and renew the State Department. To reinvigorate the relationship between the Department and Congress -something that I think Republicans and Democrats alike have agreed have soured dramatically.
His testimony, his opening statement, his answers to questions show that he will be a working partner with this institution.
But obviously confirming Mr. Blinken is not just about the nominee himself. It's about doing what the American people expect and that the Constitution requires - providing advice and consent to ensure that national security officials are in office in a timely matter.
We're fishing challenges in every corner of the world. The world is on fire - from Iran to Russia to Venezuela to global challenges that define our times and defy borders - like COVID, migration and climate change.
We can't afford delaying to put Mr. Blinken in office. We cannot allow the State Department to be rudderless. If we don't have leadership, we can't be sure that China or Russia and others won't fill the vacuum as they have for the last several years, or do something that is adverse to our national and economic security.
Imagine that there is a hostage deal to be had – as I believe there is – and you can’t have another country call the Secretary of State because the Secretary of State doesn't exist.
Imagine if there were tensions between two countries that affect our national interests. We don't have a Secretary of State to call his counterpart of those countries to seek to ease the tension to remove the threat.
Imagine if President Biden needs to have the Secretary of State engage in some part of the world to stop a conflict, to open an opportunity, to prevent an unintended consequence. We don't have that person. And we cannot expect the president to pick up the phone in each every instance of the world as he's trying to deal with COVID at home and the economic crisis that follows on from that. That's what the Secretary of State does.
So Mr. Blinken is not just critical to addressing challenges abroad. He have to acknowledge what the role of Secretary of State here is at home.
If we remember what just happened back on the sixth, three of the first four officials in the line of succession - the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate – were in the Capitol when domestic terrorists breached the building.
And every day we learn more details about this heinous attack, including that the terrorists – some of whom were chanting “Hang Mike Pence” – came within a minute or so of a potential face to face encounter with Vice President Pence.
Thank God for the quick thinking and heroics of our Capitol police and other law enforcement those three remained unscathed.
But if something had happened, it is the Secretary of State that is fourth in line of succession to the President of the United States.
Leaving the office vacant is irresponsible. It is irresponsible in that regard. It is irresponsible in terms of something happening in the world and not having a Secretary of State who could work to deal with it so that we could preserve our national security, promote our national interest, and stop something - an unintended consequence - from happening.
Mr. Blinken has the qualifications. The challenges facing our country call for him to be confirmed and I hope the Senate does not leave here tomorrow until he is confirmed.
With that, Madam President, I yield the floor.”