WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the unacceptable delay to confirm President Obama’s nominees to serve as U.S. Ambassadors and at other key State Department and USAID posts, including 20 USAID Foreign Service Officers.
The remarks, as prepared for delivery, appear below.
“I have to express my disappointment at the slow pace of consideration of the 16 nominations that are ready for consideration by the full Senate. The Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and my other colleagues on the foreign relations committee, worked hard to get these nominees through Committee and onto the floor, and yet they are stalled here on the floor.
“I am especially disappointed that some of these highly qualified nominees have been waiting as long as 10 months or longer for confirmation. These nominees are, I am told, all subject to “holds” placed by senators, who have indefinitely stalled these nominations over issues that are totally unrelated to the qualifications of the nominee, the position to which they have been nominated, or the country where they are expected to serve. This is ridiculous. The State Department and other foreign policy agencies need these individuals in place in order for these agencies to be able to do their jobs effectively.
“Let me offer a few instructive examples. The world is currently facing a number of humanitarian crises, especially with regard to the refugee situation in Syria, that desperately require America’s assistance and advice. Yet the top leadership post at the United States Agency for International Development remains vacant. Gayle Smith, our nominee to be Administrator of USAID, has been a strong and effective advocate on global development issues, and her expertise and management skills are sorely needed.
“My understanding is that the issue holding Ms. Smith back has nothing to do with Ms. Smith’s experience, her positions, or how she intends to run USAID. No. The objection to her nomination relates somehow to the Iran Agreement, specifically to the UN Security Council approving the Agreement in July before the congressional review process was complete. But Ms. Smith did not work on the Iran agreement and did not make the decision about its consideration by the Security Council. So this makes no sense.
“Crises requiring a coordinated humanitarian response are erupting across the world, and the person who would be charged with coordinating the US government response can’t be confirmed because of an issue from almost 4 months ago that she played no part in? M. President, this is no way to run our government, particularly at a time when US leadership on these matters is so needed.
“But as I understand the circumstances, even if the hold on Ms. Smith is lifted, others nominated for crucial positions at USAID will still be subject to holds, for the same nonsensical reason: Tom Melia to be Assistant USAID Administrator for Europe and Eurasia, and Ann Barr to be Inspector General of USAID. These two individuals are highly qualified and likewise had no involvement with the Iran agreement. Derailing the nominations of critically-needed officials based on an unrelated event that happened 4 months ago – and cannot be undone or changed – is obstructionist and in my view shows an intent to create the circumstances for poor governance.
“Another example of the obstructionism we are seeing—very unfortunately—is the hold on Ambassador David Robinson to be the Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations. The Senator freely admits that his hold is totally unrelated to the credentials or expertise of the nominee, or the issues the nominee would provide leadership on. So I want to go through a few of Ambassador Robinson’s credentials, and describe the work of the office that he would lead, so that the American people can really understand what the situation is here with these holds by Republicans.
“Ambassador David Robinson is a career diplomat with 30 years of experience with the State Department and who is currently serving as the Principal Deputy High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he oversees implementation of the Peace Agreement that ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He has served both Democratic and Republican administrations.
“He has served far and wide, and under dangerous and demanding circumstances: He was the Assistant Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has served as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees, and Migration. He served as U.S. Ambassador to Guyana from 2006 to 2008 and as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana from 2003 to 2006. He also served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Paraguay from 2000 to 2003. M. President, this is a highly qualified individual who has shown a clear commitment and dedication to serving this country.
“In addition, we have a hold on the nomination of Brian Egan to serve as the State Department’s Legal Adviser. Like Ambassador Robinson, Mr. Egan has also served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. He began his career as a government lawyer, in 2005, as a civil servant in the Office of the Legal Adviser at the State Department, which was headed at that time by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
“He has worked in the private sector. He has served as Assistant General Counsel for Enforcement and Intelligence at the Treasury Department. He has served on the National Security Council staff. M. President, this is a non-partisan and fair-minded individual who clearly has the skill and ability to lead the Office of the Legal Adviser at State.
“Folks, the office Ambassador Robinson would lead focuses its efforts on prevention and response to mass atrocities, countering violent extremism, and election-related violence. The office Mr. Egan would lead provides legal advice to State Department officials on all the issues they are facing.
“These examples constitute only a fraction of the State Department, ambassadorial and other agency nominees currently awaiting action on this Senate floor.
“But before I get to those examples, I want to talk about a hold that is unprecedented and truly beyond the pale. M. President, 20 innocent USAID Foreign Service Officers awoke on August 5 to find that one U.S. Senator was keeping them from being promoted to the positions that they had already earned at USAID. Why? Because he wants more information from the State Department about Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
“Imagine that. And I want to be clear about who we are talking about here. These 20 USAID Foreign Service Officers are not nominated for Ambassador positions, or Assistant Secretary positions. These are folks that were plucked from a list of 181 promotions that must be confirmed by the full Senate for the promotions to take effect. These are civil servants who are working hard day-in and day-out, serving their country—in both democratic and republican administrations, I would add—in challenging and sometimes even dangerous places around the globe. We are talking about:
- A Supervisory Program Officer in Cambodia
- The Deputy Director for East Africa Operations in Kenya
- The Director of the Democracy and Governance Office in Rwanda
- A Senior Advisor for Civilian-Military Cooperation
- A Resident Legal Officer for the Regional Mission for Asia
- An Education officer in Honduras
- A Regional Legal Advisor in El Salvador
- A Deputy Controller for Financial Management in El Salvador
- A Regional Food For Peace (Food Aid) officer in Ethiopia
- A Regional Legal Advisor in Egypt
- A Deputy Education and Youth Office Director in Kenya
- The Director of the Food for Peace Program in South Sudan
- The Democracy and Governance Director in El Salvador
- The Economic Growth Team Leader in Zambia
- The Economic Growth Office Director in Ukraine
- A Controller for Financial Management in Rwanda
“Can you imagine working hard as a USAID development professional, serving your country, earning your promotion. And then waking up one day and finding out that you may not get your promotion because one Senator wants more information about Secretary Hillary Clinton.
“Can you imagine how hard it must be for these dedicated public servants not to be completely cynical about this place—Congress? M. President, I have to say, I find this truly appalling. Can’t we all agree that these innocent public servants don’t deserve to be held hostage over partisan Presidential politics?
“Finally, I want to address the damage these holds cause to the United States’ strategic interests abroad. I am going to highlight 2 of the many Ambassadorial nominations that are being held, in particular the nominees for the nations of Sweden and Trinidad & Tobago.
“Sweden is a key strategic ally and member of the Arctic Council. Russia’s recent military activity in the Arctic and its disputed territorial claim to vast stretches of waters make the presence of a strong American voice in Sweden a vital necessity. Similarly, Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean has been used as a way station for drug smugglers, which has caused steadily increasing violence and drug activity in this hemisphere. This year the State Department gave the island nation the crime rating of ‘Critical.’
“We have a Senator who has never advanced any objection to the qualifications and experience of Azita Raji, who is nominated to be Ambassador to Sweden. And yet a hold has been placed on her nomination because of a totally unrelated issue involving actions by the Secret Service. Ms. Raji is an accomplished businesswoman with impressive international credentials. She was the Vice-President of JP Morgan Securities in New York, New York and Tokyo, Japan. She speaks five languages. She has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“She has been waiting 10 months to be confirmed. I would say to my colleagues across the aisle, that neither the Ambassador to Sweden, nor the State Department, has any control over the Secret Service.
“Similarly, another Senator has never listed any objection to the qualifications and experience John Estrada would bring to the job in Trinidad & Tobago. Mr. Estrada was nominated over 160 days ago. M. President, Mr. Estrada Estrada was born in Trinidad & Tobago. He immigrated to the United States at the age of 12 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1988. He is a leading business executive. He is also a former 15th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps. And I would note that the position of Sergeant Major is the single highest enlisted position in the Marine Corps. He has received a host of awards for his military service: the Distinguished Service Medal in 2007; the Bronze Star Medal in 2003; the Meritorious Service Medal in 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003; the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal in 2004. And M. President, there are literally 50 more honors he has received beginning in 1975 that I won’t name here.
“M. President, I call on my colleagues to join me in sending Mr. Estrada, and the rest of these qualified nominees, out into the world to serve their country. They want to serve. We want them to serve. We need them to serve. Let’s send them today. It is in our power, right now, to confirm all of these nominees, today.
“With that, M. President, I yield the floor.