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Reid: America’s security at risk while Republicans delay key nominations



WASHINGTON, D.C.—Nevada Senator Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this morning on Republican efforts to delay confirmation of key national security nominees:

“When a young Nigerian terrorist boarded an airplane bound for America on Christmas Day, there was no permanent boss at the TSA – the agency created after 9/11 specifically to keep air travel safe.

“When he tried to blow up that plane, the top positions at both of the intelligence agencies within the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security were similarly empty.

“Why?  Because Republican Senators refuse to let this body hold a vote on the highly capable people the President has asked to serve in those roles.

“We all know Republicans have dedicated themselves to grinding government to a halt.  They do so openly and proudly, and boast about their aversion to compromise.

“It’s why they have time and again exploited the rules of the Senate and abused this body’s procedural traditions.  It’s why they have wasted countless hours and shattered remarkable records for stubbornness.  It’s why, when we have faced questions of national security, they have answered with politics.

“Republicans have repeatedly asked fearful families to put their concerns on hold while they score political points and play partisan games.  But M. President, this is not a game.

“An embarrassingly high number of critical national security officials remain unable to get to work.  For political reasons, a handful of Republican Senators are standing between these experts and their offices.  And that means they are also standing between the American people and their security.

“Too many of the President’s nominees await Senate confirmation.  Today I want to talk about four of those positions Republicans refuse to fill:

  • One, the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, which is the number-three job at the Pentagon.
  • Two, the Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, the head of the State Department’s intelligence department.
  • Three, the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, the head of DHS’s intelligence arm.
  • And four, the U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament, whose job it is to work with other nations to keep our own safe from nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

“The President has chosen exceptionally qualified men and women for these critical national security posts.  But without a Senate vote confirming them, they cannot do their jobs.

“For the first job I mentioned – the number-three job at the Pentagon – the President has nominated General Clifford Stanley.

“For 33 years, Dr. Stanley has served our country in the Marine Corps and the communities where he and his family have lived.  After serving bravely as a Marine infantry officer and as a White House Fellow, he was the head of the nation’s largest nonprofit, private-sector scholarship organization.  General Stanley is by no means a controversial nominee; the Senate Armed Services Committee approved him with unanimous support.

“General Clifford Stanley would not only be a pivotal part of the Pentagon’s senior leadership.  He also would be in charge of making sure our service members are prepared for war at a time we are waging two of them, and as we plan to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan – a surge I know my Republican colleagues support.

“Our military’s leaders have told me that his absence is having a major negative impact on the Pentagon’s operations.

“If we are serious about giving our troops the tools they need to succeed in battle and at home, we should be just as committed to giving our military the leader who will go to work every day and make sure that happens.

“The second and third positions I mentioned are the top intelligence roles at the Departments of State and Homeland Security.

“For the State Department position, President Obama has nominated Ambassador Philip Goldberg.  Like General Stanley, Ambassador Goldberg is not a controversial or partisan nominee.  In fact, it was President Bush who gave him the title of Ambassador when he made Goldberg our top diplomat in Bolivia.  He has also led law enforcement, intelligence and nonproliferation efforts in countries like Kosovo and North Korea.  As the head of the State Department’s intelligence branch, he would work with our ambassadors around the world and be the Secretary of State’s top intelligence adviser.

“For the Homeland Security position, the President has nominated Caryn Wagner.  She, too, is highly qualified for this role, having held a number of senior positions in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Intelligence Program.  As Homeland Security’s top intelligence official, Wagner would be responsible for ensuring the department’s partners at the state, local and tribal levels – and in the private sector – have the information they need to keep us safe.

“The fourth nominee I mentioned is Ambassador Laura Kennedy, whom President Obama has asked to serve as our nation’s representative to the Conference on Disarmament.  This group is responsible for negotiating multilateral arms control and disarmament agreements, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Ambassador Kennedy is a member of the Senior Foreign Service and has worked at the State Department, the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, the United Nations, the National War College and as President Bush’s Ambassador to Turkmenistan.

“Of all the countries with nuclear weapons, the United States is the only one that does not have a representative at the Conference on Disarmament’s negotiating table.  That’s unacceptable.  And that will change as soon as the Senate confirms Ambassador Kennedy.

“It’s clear these positions are critical to our national security, and equally evident that these nominees are well-qualified, non-partisan public servants.  What isn’t clear is why our Republican colleagues refuse to bring them up for a vote.

“Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases.  They are part of an endless and reckless pattern.  As with candidates for the President’s Cabinet, other top administration posts and numerous federal judges, Republicans have decided the President does not deserve to have his nominees reviewed by the Senate, as the Constitution clearly states.

“This obstruction could not come at a more dangerous time.  Republicans blocked a vote on our Surgeon General, even after the President declared the H1N1 virus a national emergency.  They blocked a vote on the top Homeland Security official responsible for science and technology, even as the nation braced for both the flu pandemic and bioterror threats.

“The list goes on.  While our sons and daughters are fighting in Iraq and rebuilding that nation, last year Republicans delayed the confirmation of America’s ambassador to Iraq.

“And while our troops serve bravely in Afghanistan, Republicans delayed the confirmation of Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, our new commander in that difficult war.

“This clearly is not the way the Senate is supposed to work, and it’s not even the way it typically works.  As I have pointed out many times, it only took four months for President Obama to face as many filibusters of his nominees as President Bush faced in his entire first four years.

“Senate Republicans are simply so opposed to everything – absolutely everything – that they even oppose putting people in some of the most important positions in our government.

“Democrats have no interest in playing these games.  We believe that those who have chosen to serve our country must be able to get to work without delay.

“It would be one thing if Republicans – bound together in unified opposition to everything, as they have made their custom – voted against these vital nominees.  It would be one thing if they reviewed the résumés, brought the nominees before the appropriate committees, and decided they were not fit to serve.  But that’s not what is happening.

“Instead, simply to waste time, Republicans are refusing to let the Senate vote at all.  When these nominees do finally come before this body, you shouldn’t be surprised if they pass unanimously, with overwhelming Republican support, or nearly so.  You shouldn’t be surprised, but you should be sickened.

“These Senators are ignoring their responsibility to confirm or reject the men and women our Commander in Chief has chosen to help lead the nation.  They are abdicating their responsibility to the American people to keep us safe.  They’re certainly not putting country first, as advertised.

“Here’s the bottom line: my Republican colleagues are basing their judgments on the political party doing the nominating rather than the person being nominated.

“This irresponsible partisanship does not merely poison our political system – it endangers our national security.

“I have no doubt our friends on the other side realize that when we keep empty a critical office in the Pentagon, State Department or Department of Homeland Security, we are not keeping the American people safe.  They know what they are doing, and they know that what they are doing is dangerous.  And that makes these partisan games all the more disgraceful.”

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