Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Nominations Hearing

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U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

WASHINGTON – 

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today delivered the following opening remarks at this morning’s full Committee hearing to consider the nominations of the Honorable Brian A. Nichols to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs and the Honorable Michele Jeanne Sison to be an Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs.

“When we shun our responsibilities and fail to lead, other countries take note and seek to take advantage to the detriment of our interests and security. China and Russia have sought to fill the vacuum left by our absence,” Chairman Menendez said. “At this pivotal moment for our foreign policy and the State Department, I am heartened that President Biden has nominated individuals to two critical positions. I believe that your experience and commitment will be assets to the Department and critical in the defense of our interests and values.”

Chairman Menendez’s remarks as delivered at the hearing.

“Ambassador Nichols, Ambassador Sison, congratulations on your nominations and thank you for your willingness to continue serving our country as well as your families. We understand that it is a sacrifice of all of those who are part of the family in terms of this continuing service, so we appreciate that as well.

At this pivotal moment for our foreign policy and the State Department, I am heartened that President Biden has nominated individuals to two critical positions. I believe that your experience and commitment will be assets to the Department and critical in the defense of our interests and values.

I understand that the Senator from Rhode Island will be introducing Ambassador Nichols this morning and that the Senator from Maryland – a member of this Committee – will be introducing Ambassador Sison. I don’t see Ambassador Whitehouse yet. I know he’s very busy with Judiciary Affairs so he’s probably on his way here. So let’s recognize Senator Van Hollen first for the introduction.

…Thank you, Senator Van Hollen. After that sterling recommendation, Ambassador, maybe you should just rest your case. But we aren’t going to let you off that easy. In any event, I understand that Senator Whitehouse is with us virtually.

…Please proceed. Welcome.

…Thank you, Senator Whitehouse, for your introduction of Ambassador Nichols.

Ambassador Nichols, your nomination comes at a time when the Western Hemisphere is reeling under a cascade of challenges—the devastation wrought by COVID-19, the fraying of democratic consensus, major migration crises, and a void after four years of American absence that China is seeking to fill.

The task at hand is immense.

With death rates among the highest in the world, COVID-19 is inflicting a terrible toll on the hemisphere.

And the United States has to step up. As we accumulate surplus vaccines, we must prioritize vaccine access for countries in the hemisphere as part of our global efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable are vaccinated.

And, as the region’s economic health has a direct impact on the United States, we must take bold steps to facilitate its recovery. That is why this committee voted to authorize a capital increase for the Inter-American Development Bank last month.

Additionally, Latin America is facing the recurrence of flawed elections, deterioration in the separation of powers, attacks on journalists and freedom of the press, and entrenched autocrats in Havana, Caracas, and Managua. 

Indeed, we know where democratic decay can lead. After two decades, Venezuela is now a land of unbridled criminality and kleptocracy, where a humanitarian crisis has forced more than five million people to flee their homeland.

While the scale is distinct, we also know that irregular migration from Central America is rooted in decades of low levels of democratic governance. Deficient institutions are unable to meet the needs of the people and too many leaders have exploited weak rule of law to place their personal interests over those of their citizens.

Given the scale of the challenge, I’m pleased to see that Vice President Harris is heading the Administration’s diplomatic efforts in Central America. Under her leadership, we are already seeing and increased humanitarian response and a strong reaction to leaders that seek to undermine democracy.

So Ambassador Nichols, I look forward to discussing with you. I appreciate our visit yesterday. We had a whole tour de force of the Western Hemisphere, and we look forward to discussing with you how we will address the challenges and how best to collaborate to ensure your success.

Ambassador Sison, welcome to your sixth Senate confirmation hearing. It is deeply reassuring that President Biden nominated you — a diplomat with extensive experience, immense skill and a demonstrated management record — to be the next Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs.

Over the course of the Trump administration, we witnessed a dramatic and troubling erosion of U.S. government leadership at the UN. We tried to pull out of the World Health Organization in the middle of a pandemic; we undermined international protections for women, girls and LGBTI individuals; and defunded or reduced funding to key agencies. We refused to pay our dues in full to UN peacekeeping operations and as a result the United States has accrued $1.1 billion in arrears.

When we shun our responsibilities and fail to lead, other countries take note and seek to take advantage to the detriment of our interests and security. China and Russia have sought to fill the vacuum left by our absence. 

It’s time for renewal and engagement with the United Nations and its agencies, like the World Food Program and UNFPA.

In the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, we must redouble the Biden administration’s effort at restoring U.S. leadership at the WHO and other international health and humanitarian organizations.  

The world will be closely watching how we more effectively engage within and work to strengthen international organizations. So I look forward to hearing your views and working with you to ensure we restore our critical leadership role.  

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