WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks on the Senate Floor on CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to be Secretary of State.
Below are Senator Menendez’s full remarks as prepared for delivery:
M. President, I rise today to express my opposition to Mike Pompeo serving as this nation’s top diplomat.
As I said earlier this week in committee, I am genuinely disappointed to be casting a vote against a Secretary of State nominee. I believe the United States needs an effective leader on the global stage.
But at the end of the day, as I considered Director Pompeo’s nomination, including his hearing, past statements, and recent revelations, I have lingering concerns along three broad themes: Mr. Pompeo failed to express any tangible diplomatic strategies for which he would advocate to advance American interests, he failed to be forthright with the committee, and finally, I do not have a satisfactory answer to the question: which Mike Pompeo am I being asked to vote on?
Unfortunately, during his nomination process where he had an opportunity to address all of these concerns, Director Pompeo offered contradictory statements, and was less than forthcoming when pressed on a number of issues.
Given the opportunity to outline the strategies he would advocate with the administration to deal with Russia, Iran, North Korea, China, or Venezuela, he failed to exhibit the depth of knowledge or thoughtfulness about what those strategies would be.
Granted, he is under the constraints of this Administration, which has failed to offer a strategic vision for American diplomacy, a White House which has failed to effectively outline policies or strategies to achieve a series of ever-changing goals and objectives. But I expect our chief diplomat to have a vision for diplomacy.
A meeting is not a strategy. Airstrikes are not a strategy. Unilaterally walking away from an international agreement is not a strategy.
Beyond his lack of strategies, I fear Mr. Pompeo was less than transparent throughout his confirmation process. Truthfulness and the willingness to be forthcoming to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are essential in a Secretary of State nominee.
But in his refusal to answer questions about the Russia investigation, for which he was interviewed – a critical issue before this committee - and his failure to disclose any information about his trip to North Korea, which he could have disclosed in a classified setting instead of us learning about it through the press – both of these are critical issues before this committee – he exhibited that he was more suited to the clandestine nature of the CIA Director than the transparency of a Secretary of State.
I do not expect a Cabinet Secretary to publicly disagree with the President; indeed, it is his or her duty to carry out the President’s agenda. But as policies are being worked out, I remain skeptical of whether he will be forthcoming with Members of Congress, how he will approach complex issues, and what that means for our foreign policy.
This lack of forthrightness ultimately leaves me wondering whether he would be willing to push back against the President’s worst instincts. Whether he would be willing to say no and advance a different course, or whether he would simply be a yes-man.
When the President blames Russia’s aggressive behavior on Democrats – Democrats…pretty amazing – will Director Pompeo remind him that Russia’s aggressive behavior is caused by Russia and no one else?
As our nation’s top diplomat, would Director Pompeo - as he said in his confirmation hearing - value diversity and demand every employee be “treated equally with dignity and respect”?
Does he believe - as he said in his hearing in “promoting America’s ideals, values, and priorities” - including our collective identity as a nation of immigrants and refugees fleeing oppression who have made the United States a bastion of hope in the world? Or, will we be represented by Congressman Pompeo - who voted against the Violence Against Women’s Act - to deny support to victims of gender-based violence - and sponsored legislation to roll-back marriage equality?
Or Congressman Pompeo who as recently as recently as 2016 sponsored legislation to immediately halt refugee resettlement in the United States until ill-advised reforms were made?
These concerns are beyond policy disagreements, which alone are not a basis for rejecting a nominee.
Rather, this legislative history paints a troubling picture of how the United States and our diplomatic efforts will be conducted and received by our allies and adversaries alike. Will the Department seek to roll back programs advancing women’s access to healthcare and justice systems – programs that have significantly improved the lives not only of women all over the world, but by extension improved stability, prosperity and governance reforms? When we talk about promoting universal human rights in countries who seek to oppress people based on their sexual orientation. What will our nation’s top diplomat credibly say?
And as we work with our allies who are absorbing literally millions of refugees from profoundly devastating crises all over the world. And as families in my home state of New Jersey and throughout the country open their hearts and their homes…
What will he credibly say as this Administration slashes our own refugee program, once a crown jewel of our foreign policy, both in establishing our moral leadership, and in supporting our partners globally?
On our own border, we simply cannot address the threat of drug traffickers or opioids without productive collaboration with Mexico. When the President wants to call Mexicans drug-traffickers and rapists, as our nation’s top diplomat – who during his confirmation hearing insisted his “record is exquisite with respect to treating people of each and every faith with the dignity they deserve” – would Mr. Pompeo advise the President not to? Or would it be the Pompeo who once called a political opponent a “turban-topper” prevail?
How will he explain this kind of rhetoric to people of myriad different faiths who wear turbans – whether millions of Sikhs, Punjabis or Muslims in India, a critically important ally – or Orthodox Christians in the Horn of Africa, or tribal leaders in Afghanistan with whom we are trying to build constructive relationships based on values of democracy and human rights?
What impact will his accusations that Muslim leaders in the United States are somehow “complicit” in devastating terrorist attacks have as he engages with Muslim leaders and citizens around the world?
Nearly 2 billion people in the world adhere to the Muslim faith, many in countries with whom we have relationships critical to protecting and promoting our national security, with citizens who have suffered the most from brutal terrorism.
Similarly, part of the exceptionalism of the United States comes from the power of our diaspora communities, who serve as critical cultural and public diplomats to the rest of the world. How can someone who has made such derogatory and uninformed remarks conduct effective diplomacy?
As I’ve said before, I believe it is imperative for the Secretary of State to be forthright, to be someone in whom the American people and our allies can vest faith and trust. Someone who will unequivocally champion our values to assert our global leadership.
Our global leadership comes from our investment in diplomacy and development as our primary policy drivers abroad. Unfortunately, I do not believe Director Pompeo is someone who will always prioritize diplomacy over conflict, particularly in the context of the aggressive foreign policy voices growing around him. I am particularly concerned by his past comments on regime change in North Korea and Iran.
Look, I abhor both regimes, but our national interests and security is a little different.
While he said during his confirmation hearing that war “is the last resort” Mr. Pompeo’s past statements calling for military action and regime change in Iran will surely follow him as we work with our allies to build on multinational agreements to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.
His off-hand remarks about regime change in North Korea will be ever-present as we pursue negotiations to roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ program and seek dismantlement.
M. President, with all of these concerns in mind, ultimately, I simply do not believe that Director Pompeo is someone who can genuinely represent all Americans and best promote American foreign policy interests.
It is for these reasons, among others, I am voting against Director Pompeo.
Let me very clear, despite what some of my other colleagues may believe or tell the press, this is not a vote in the name of political resistance to the President.
I have voted for members of this President’s cabinet, from his Secretary of Defense, to former Secretary for Homeland Security and now Chief of Staff, to our Ambassador to the United Nations, to mention some.
I will never hesitate to agree with a sound policy, or criticize a misguided one, regardless of which party is in the White House. I think history would prove that and judge it to be true. I will always put patriotism and our national security interests over partisanship. Always.
I also reject the notion that we should confirm a Secretary of State based on world events outside of our control, whether that be a NATO summit or a meeting with North Korea. Nobody forced the President to fire his previous Secretary. And unless Kim Jong Un is unilaterally dictating the terms of our relations, we should wait until we have the appropriate people and dutiful preparation to achieve the success that we and the world needs.
In closing, as we consider these nominees, let me clear. Despite what the White House wants to claim, Democrats are not “obstructing” nominees through this body. The facts are simply not on their side.
Of 172 positions at the State Department and USAID critical to advancing U.S. interests, the Administration has failed to even nominate 77 of those positions, including 45 Ambassadorial positions in critical countries such as South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and I could go on. And, lest we all forget, Republicans control the votes on the Senate Floor. Republican leadership can bring up any nominee once they have passed committee. At any time. That is their prerogative.
The Founders recognized that an effective democracy needs co-equal branches of government to operate in a system of checks and balances. The President has the right to nominate whomever he wants. But the Congress has a responsibility to ensure that person is best suited for the job at hand. We’ve seen already challenges with that process with some of these nominees. And in the case of our Secretary of State, one who will prioritize diplomacy and promoting fundamental values.
If and when he is confirmed, as someone who has served on both the House and Senate committees tasked with overseeing foreign policy administration, I am more than willing to work alongside the nominee if confirmed, to provide advice and input as he and the President seek to advance American interests and values on the global stage.
I will of course, in my capacity as Ranking Member, work alongside him in pursuit of comprehensive and coherent strategies that promote American interests.
Despite my misgivings, I will always have an open door and will seek opportunities to advance our shared objectives. We stand ready and willing to take any and all actions in the interest of peace and security for all Americans.
That has always been my north star, and it always will be.