Sen. Bob Lectern

Sen. Bob Menendez Signals Priorities as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair

Sen. Bob Menendez opening remarks in the confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State seemed to foretell several foreign policy goals, including climate change, migration, and the COVID-19 pandemic as he sets to take reign of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“If confirmed, your task will be to repair and restore America’s place in the world. You will face complex challenges all over the globe,” stated Menendez in his opening remarks for the nomination of Antony Blinken to serve as Secretary of State.

Blinkin previously served as Staff Director of the Foreign Relations Committee, Deputy Secretary of State, and as a member of the Obama-Biden administration’s national security team.

Foreign Policy Refocus

“You will need to re-center our foreign policy around the core American values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But you will need to do so thoughtfully,” said Menendez.

The Senator’s comments focused on the existing diplomatic challenges the Biden Administration would be forced to reckon with, including Chinese aggression, nuclear activity in Iran, and compounding political and humanitarian crises in Latin America.

Additionally, the Senator focused on the immediate attention needed on North Korea, Russia, and Turkey regarding the growth of their nuclear and missile programs.

“A revanchist Russia continues to threaten the United States and our allies, including through the recent SolarWinds cyberattack, the spread of disinformation, and efforts to silence and murder political opposition,” stated the North Jersey Senator. “And Turkey continues to be destabilizing by supporting Azerbaijan’s aggression in Nagorno-Karabakh and through its own aggressive behavior in the Eastern Mediterranean against our democratic allies, Greece and Cyprus.” 

Mideast Matters

Menendez noted one of the most pressing challenge is how the U.S. will deal Iran. While admitting he was not a proponent nuclear deal framework agreement reached in 2015 better known as JCPOA, the Senator said the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw without a serious strategy involving our allies left us less safe and Iran emboldened.

“Unfortunately, Iran’s continuing aggression across the Middle East and its recent nuclear activity that has dramatically advanced its capabilities has vindicated that prediction,” said Menendez. “I understand the Biden Administration is interested in returning to a diplomatic path—which I support—but I fear returning to the JCPOA without concrete efforts to address Iran’s other dangerous and destabilizing activity will be insufficient.” 

After clashing repeatedly with Trumps’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Senator said one of Blinkin main objectives will be the need to rebuild and reinvigorate the State Department itself.

“Over the past few year years, however, (career foreign and civil servants) have been treated with disdain, smeared, and forced out of public service,” he opined. “There has been a stunning loss of expertise, steep declines in morale, little accountability for those at the top, and the State Department still has not achieved a workforce that comes close to reflecting the diversity of our country. This state of affairs has impacted relationships across the globe, the Department’s ability to engage in the interagency process, and its relationship with Congress.”

A Focus on the Capitol Riots

Although Menendez looked to foreign issues in his opening remarks, he also took the moment to address the Capitol Riots which occurred Jan. 6.

He argued the riots complicated America’s presence on the national stage, saying the country must refocus on promoting democracy, faith in the Constitution, and the rule of law if it were to play a role in international politics.

“This attack on the very foundations of our democracy delivered a tragic reminder that our ability to project power abroad is inextricably linked to the health and strength of our democracy,” Sen. Menendez added.

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