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U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today took to the Senate Floor to condemn Senate Republicans’ efforts to delay and obstruct dozens of highly-qualified foreign affairs and development nominees whose unwarranted delays in being confirmed pose significant national security threats to the United States. With Senate Democrats forcing late night votes on Thursday to confirm multiple senior officials at the State Department, Senator Menendez’s remarks follow his efforts in the last several months (Here and Here) to break through Senate Republicans’ blockade. 

“We have close to 100 nominations for the State Department and USAID that are pending. That’s a crisis number. These nominations include positions and ambassadorships to countries throughout Latin America and Africa, places where competition with China and Russia is real, where we need ambassadors in place to project U.S. power to assist and protect U.S. citizens and to promote our companies,” Senator Menendez said. “We are less safe when our national security agencies are so underwhelmed. We owe it to the Senate and the American people to fix this problem.

In speaking in support for the confirmation Daniel Kritenbrink to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; Karen Donfried to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs; Monica Medina to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs; Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; and Todd Robinson, to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, Chairman Menendez also delivered remarks to give his full-throated support for the confirmation of his longtime staffer and current Senate Foreign Relations Committee Majority Staff Director Jessica Lewis to serve as Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs.

“Jessica is recognized across party lines as one of the most effective and trusted leaders on Capitol Hill,” added Senator Menendez. “She is a trailblazer for women in national security, and when approved by the Senate, and I have no doubt she will be approved, she will be the first woman confirmed to hold this position. It would be impossible to catalogue all of her accomplishments – from getting countless bills passed through the Committee and into law – supporting efforts to conduct serious oversight of the executive branch regardless of which party is in power – to striving to build a truly diverse staff of the Foreign Relations Committee. I have no doubt she will bring that commitment to mentorship, integrity, and public service to the State Department as well. We expect to see her after she gets confirmed back here, answering questions and being part of this incredibly important job that she will be doing and bringing political military affairs together.”

Find a copy of Chairman Menendez’s full remarks as delivered below.

“Thank you Mr. President.

You know, we are here this Thursday at night. We would not be here under normal circumstances, but we are here because one member of the Senate has determined to impede the entire national security infrastructure as it relates to the foreign policy of the United States. What we do in the State Department and that which comes to the Committee on Foreign Relations has to do with the essential security of the United States.

It is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that has jurisdiction over global arms sales. It is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that has jurisdiction over the authorization of the use of force. It is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with treaties around the globe. It is the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that deals with the question of nuclear arms and proliferation. And so much more. And it is the State Department that perpetuates the national interest and security of the United States in its positions around the globe. Both at home in the first place but around the globe.

Now, I’ve had plenty – over the course of 30 years of doing foreign policy work between the House and 16 years in the Senate – plenty of moments where I had a fundamental disagreement – a very strong one – with an administration about their policy. But I did not hold up the entire national security infrastructure of the State Department that puts at risk the nation. I hear all these speeches about security. You’re putting at risk the nation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had some of the critical people – I just heard my colleague from Texas – in position beyond the Department of Homeland Security to deal with the hemispheric challenges that we have on immigration in Central America and in Latin America? The Haitians who are at the border today didn’t just come from the earthquake and disasters and assassination and hurricanes that have taken place. They have been in Latin America for quite some time. They’ve just made their way to the border.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the people in place – Ambassadors and others – to deal in those countries to find a way forward on how we humanely deal with that challenge? Wouldn’t it be nice if we had the person in charge of East Asia and the Pacific to deal with our challenges with China? This Senate came together a few months ago and said China is the single most significant national security challenge, the most significant geo-strategic challenge we have in the world. And yet we have vacancies galore to deal with that very challenge. I have members who come to me and say this company from my state is having a problem in xyz. Well, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have an ambassador in that country to deal with the challenges of that American company? Or people who come to me and talk to me about their challenges in getting a loved one, somebody from their state, to be able to come. Our consular offices, wouldn’t it be nice to have somebody in the position to deal with that? Wouldn’t it be critical as we deal with the questions of law enforcement and drug trafficking to have the head of that, the Assistant Secretary in position, so that we could deal with those challenges?

So whatever view our colleague from Texas has about Nord Stream – and I happen to believe that on the substance, he is right – but this procedure is wretchedly wrong because it puts us at risk in so, so many dimensions. And something will happen. Something will happen somewhere in the world where we are not present because one Senator decided to hold up that nominee that would have made a difference.

We already saw it as we were trying to deal with challenges in our hemisphere and those who relate it to Afghanistan. Ridiculous. So our colleague who is holding this all up because these nominees overwhelmingly passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee either unanimously – hear me – unanimously, or with strong bipartisan votes. We just saw the cloture vote. 77. We are leaving these positions unfilled. The position is untenable to continue to be able to meet the challenges the State Department has in fulfilling whose interests? The interests of the American people around the globe.

So it’s time to get over that. We have only passed in this body two of President Biden’s ambassadorial appointments. This Administration has been in office for nine months. If I were look at the same time period for President Trump, we did far better. I didn’t agree with President Trump on a whole host of foreign policy decisions, but I understood that having people in place was critical – even when I disagreed with him philosophically – was critical to promote the national interest and security of the United States. So it’s time to get over this. These positions would normally pass by voice, much less taking hours, hours of which, by the way, the debate is not even about the nominees or their positions.

It’s about immigration and this and that and the other thing. The debate is not even about these critical national security positions. I don’t want to hear about people coming to the floor and talking about national security when they’re leaving all these positions vacant. 

Now, let me specifically address the nominees that we are voting on. I want to express my support for the nominations of Daniel Kritenbrink to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.  Oh, China. 

Karen Donfried to be Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs. We’re trying to have a strong transatlantic alliance. We’re talking about Ukraine, Belarus. 

Monica Medina, to be Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Scientific affairs. COVID.

Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. We are having a huge challenge. I’ve been privileged to meet two of the African presidents here in the last couple of days since they’re here for UN Week. China is all over Africa. We need an Assistant Secretary who engaged in the continent of Africa to be promoting the views of America’s democracy, human rights, rule of law, investment, trade and opportunity. We’re nowhere there.

Todd Robinson, to be Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. You know, I hear speeches about fentanyl. I agree. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the Assistant Secretary of State to work hemispherically and beyond to make sure that we don’t get more fentanyl into our country?

Jessica Lewis to be Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

If ever we needed someone who is engaged on the conduct of political and military affairs and how that faces national security challenges, it’s now. These are the people we’re voting on. These are the people who overwhelmingly came out of the Committee with unanimous or bipartisan votes. These are superbly qualified nominees. If it’s not obvious, I have a very deep frustration about them languishing on the floor for weeks due to Republican holds.

And I have a frustration that we have not been able to more precipitously move people through the Committee to bring them to the floor.

We have close to 100 nominations for the State Department and USAID that are pending. That’s a crisis number. These nominations include positions and ambassadorships to countries throughout Latin America and Africa, places where competition with China and Russia is real, where we need ambassadors in place to project U.S. power to assist and protect U.S. citizens and to promote our companies. We are less safe when our national security agencies are so underwhelmed. We owe it to the Senate and the American people to fix this problem.

I am pleased to be supporting the nomination of Ambassador Daniel Kritenbrink to be Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs.

In recent years and on a bipartisan basis, the United States has reassessed and rebalanced our approach to the Indo-Pacific to take into account the reality of our competitive relationship with China. This is a region rich with pressing challenges—from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs to a roll-back in human rights and democracy across the region.

Ambassador Kritenbrink will be able to draw from his decades of experience in the region to lead our efforts in this area.

I am also pleased to be supporting Dr. Karen Donfried’s nomination—which is a testament to the Biden administration’s efforts to rebuild the transatlantic relationship, which was significantly damaged by the last administration.

I know that Dr. Donfried’s knowledge and experience—including previously as Senior Director for European Affairs at the National Security Council—will serve the country well as we seek to renew that transatlantic relationship. These are issues related to Russia, Turkey, Belarus, and our support for Ukraine. I hear speeches all the time about our support for these countries. Wouldn’t it be nice to have the person – forget about nice. Isn’t it critical to have the person that can be promoting that view?

Ms. Monica Medina to be the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

I am convinced that she is imminently qualified — including as Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce and in a variety of leadership roles focused on ocean conservation and environmental policy and science.

Likewise, I am pleased to support Ambassador Mary Catherine Phee to be Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.

As I said, we have an enormous challenge on the African continent.

Ambassador Todd Robinson to be the leader as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

We want to deal with the coyotes that my colleague was talking about. Let’s put somebody in the position to go after them. INL’s work is critical to deal with narcotics, to deal with fentanyl, to deal with trafficking routes that extend through Mexico and all the way back to China.

Then Ms. Jessica Lewis.

Finally, it is with a mixture of deep pride and some sorrow that this body will consider the nomination of Ms. Lewis to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Almost twenty years ago, I hired Jessica for her first job on Capitol Hill as my foreign policy advisor and Staff Director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, of which I was the Ranking Member.

After moving to the Senate and working for Senator Harry Reid for nearly a decade, she took up the Staff Director position on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Throughout her tenure in all of these positions, Members, Senators, and staff on both sides of the aisle have all benefitted from her deep knowledge of foreign policy, her leadership, and indeed her love of the Congress itself with all its nuanced rules and procedures.

Jessica is recognized across party lines as one of the most effective and trusted leaders on Capitol Hill. She is a trailblazer for women in national security, and when approved by the Senate, and I have no doubt she will be, she will be the first woman confirmed to hold this position.

It would be impossible to catalogue all of her accomplishments – from getting countless bills passed through the Committee and into law – supporting efforts to conduct serious oversight of the executive branch regardless of which party is in power – to striving to build a truly diverse staff of the Foreign Relations Committee.

I have no doubt she will bring that commitment to mentorship, integrity, and public service to the State Department as well. We expect to see her after she gets confirmed back here, answering questions and being part of this incredibly important job that she will be doing and bringing political military affairs together. I hope that we do not have to go through these 100 nominees, two-hour sessions of each nominee, in order to get them to start working for the United States and its national security. That’s what’s at stake here. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.”