Menendez Remarks in Opposition to Roberta Jacobson's Nomination

Thursday, November 12, 2015
Remarks by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ):

Senate Foreign Relations Committee—November 10, 2015

Mr. Chairman,

For the 10 years I have served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I have taken the role of advice and consent of State Department nominees very seriously.

Whether it was the nominee for Secretary of State or a nominee to represent the United States at our most distant outpost – from one end of the spectrum to the other – I have delved into the individual’s views, experience, as well as their willingness to be open, direct, truthful and consultative as critical elements of whether they would earn my support and my vote for confirmation.

I carried the same standard whether I was simply a member of the committee or its Chairman. And even where I disagreed with the nominees views, especially if they were just espousing the views of an administration, I would often support them if the other elements I considered important were present.

In the case of Ms. Jacobson, I cannot in good conscience support her nomination to a critical post. Let me state why…

When I met Ms. Jacobson for her present position of Assistant Secretary of State, I stressed the importance to me of consultation and openness to questions and requests for information. She acknowledged the importance of such and committed to doing so.

At her nomination hearing for Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, which I chaired, I raised the questions of under-funding of the Western Hemisphere accounts, as well as the IDB, the only regional bank that did not get an increase at the time, and of authoritarian trends in the Western Hemisphere and asked what she would do to reverse those trends as the Assistant Secretary. I did so recognizing that as the deputy assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere she would have had a role in these issues, but obviously not with the same authority. While I was not convinced by her answers, both in terms of openness or in terms of substance, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

As the Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, I found her not to be the advocate she promised to be, for the region and against the authoritarianism that has only grown in the hemisphere, but I found her not to be at all consultative or forthcoming as to informational requests. Information coming from her, came only after constant questioning and repeated information requests. In essence, she was not the open, direct and consultative leader I had expected.

By way of example of these concerns, are her responses in a hearing I held as Chairman, on Human Rights in Venezuela on May 8, 2014.

In a question I posed, which I'll read from the record, I asked, "Madame Secretary, President Obama has determined that Venezuela has failed to meet its obligations under international narcotics agreements. The Treasury Department has designated members of the Venezuelan government and military as kingpins, and the drugs flowing out of Venezuela have their debilitating effects on levels of violence, governance and the rule of law in Central America and the Caribbean. Given widespread signs of collusion between drug trafficking and the Venezuelan government, does the situation in Venezuela constitute a national security threat to the United States?" Her answers all hedged and were evasive.

It took a series of follow-up questions to pierce through her answers and finally get to the conclusion that yes, it was a national security threat. Something by the way the President made a determination of.

Furthermore, I specifically asked her, whether she had been asked by Venezuelan civil society not to have us pursue sanctions for human rights abuses in Venezuela, as we were contemplating pursuing sanctions legislatively, and her answer was yes. I pursued her on this because she had said so in answers to the questions of other members, and I knew that wasn't the case and I wanted to give her the opportunity to clarify the record.

She doubled down on her answer and, soon after the hearing, social media exploded in Venezuela, by civil society groups condemning the statement and vehemently saying it wasn't true! She subsequently asked me to change her answer, which I allowed her to do, but the damage had been done.

Subsequently, at her July 15, 2015 nomination hearing for U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, I pursued a line of questioning as to why the U.S. did not request the extradition of Joaquin Guzman known as El Chapo until two years after he was captured in February 2013. She evasively said that I had to go to the Justice Department to get an answer, but upon further questioning, acknowledged that the State Department and its lawyers are involved in the extradition process. This from the person who is in charge of the Western Hemisphere and the nominee to be the Ambassador to Mexico.

I also, revisited the question of whether we considered Venezuela a national security threat, especially in light of new information we had, and she said it was not a national security threat. Totally opposite of what she had told me a year before.

I further pursued the issue of human rights sanctions in Venezuela, and I want to read from the transcript:

"You know when I have individuals who are brought before the committee for the advice and consent of the Senate I take it very seriously. And one of the elements I take very seriously is that I'm going to get fair, honest, transparent answers to my questions so that I can make judgments in the issues I am called upon as a U.S. Senator and as a senior member of this committee to make judgments on."

"In a hearing on Venezuela.... I asked you whether or not the opposition in Venezuela as you had stated, was actually opposed to us pursuing sanctions.” (I would note parenthetically for the committee, that this was during the time that the committee was considering sanctions legislation).

Your answer to me at that time was "The opposition elements engaged in the current dialogue have suggested we refrain from sanctions against individuals guilty of human rights violations."

"Now, that was not the case. And you ultimately made it very difficult for me at a moment that I was trying to understand what would be the consequences.”

"I thought that the sanctions that ultimately the President signed were the right ones. But you created a doubt in me, a doubt that shouldn't have been there. Because then, I heard a chorus of voices from the opposition in Venezuela who said no, we never said that."

"So, if I am going to look to advise and consent and vote affirmatively for someone, I need honest and open and transparent answers. And I don't feel that I got that from you at that time."

I also have serious concerns that the nominee, who has admitted that she weighed in on the trafficking in persons report, was influential in having Cuba be removed from its tier 3 designation without any appropriate justification. I think the members of the committee know how passionate I am about the integrity of the TIP report and the general sentiment that exists on the committee among members that this year's TIP report was politicized.

Mr. Chairman, Mexico is one of the most important bilateral relationships we have, not only in the Western Hemisphere, but in the world. The US Ambassador to Mexico plays an instrumental role in helping forge an even stronger partnership between our two nations, and the decision we make on this nomination is consequently one of the most important we face. From expansive trade and economic issues, to energy issues, to immigration, drug trafficking and human rights, we need someone who will be open, honest, transparent and consultative with us as we in the Senate continue to formulate policy and views to our neighbor to the south.

I do not have that experience with the nominee, nor the belief, that having given her previous opportunities to assuage my concerns, she will do so.

For these reasons, and other such examples I could give, I will be voting no.