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Robert M.
Democrat NJ

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  • Nomination of Antony Blinken to Be Deputy Secretary of State

    by Senator Robert Menendez

    Posted on 2014-12-16

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    MENENDEZ. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. MENENDEZ. Madam President, I come to the floor in favor of the confirmation of Tony Blinken, who is no [[Page S6895]] stranger to this institution and no stranger to the most significant national security issues this Nation has faced in a generation.

    As the former staff director of the Foreign Relations Committee and a close confidant of then-Chairman Biden and now a member of the President's national security team, he has earned a reputation as hard- working, studious, and keenly analytical. He comes from a family of diplomats and has lived his life in and around the Foreign Service.

    His nomination as Deputy Secretary of State comes at a time when the United States is facing a range of critical challenges, from Ebola in west Africa, to Russian aggression in Ukraine, to the challenge of countering ISIL in Syria and Iraq, to Iran's continued request for a nuclear weapons program. At the same time, we are forging new global alliances and partnerships with India, in the Middle East and Asia, and looking for opportunities to expand American exports and business opportunities. There will be no shortage of critical issues he will face.

    Foremost on our national security agenda is countering the barbarity of ISIL, whose terrorist ambitions threaten our national security as well as the stability of an entire region. We also face a continued crisis in Ukraine, where the cease-fire has collapsed and Russian tanks, troops, and weapons continue cross-border incursions into eastern Ukraine.

    Clearly, the list of challenges is long and the diplomatic calculations are complicated, and all of these challenges will be part of the portfolio of the Deputy Secretary of State. There will be times where we will agree and times where we will disagree. I look forward to working closely with Mr. Blinken should he be confirmed, and I expect that he will be.

    I know there is opposition by some of my colleagues to Mr. Blinken. As we considered his nomination in the Foreign Relations Committee last week, several of my colleagues raised concerns which I would like to take a few minutes to address.

    First, there is an incredible notion that Mr. Blinken is somehow unqualified. Anyone who has served the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as staff director, two Presidents, a Vice President, as Deputy National Security Adviser to the President of the United States, and has chaired the National Security Council's Deputies Committee is more than qualified, and my colleagues know it. They simply disagree with the politics and the policies of the President which are the responsibility of the person who is serving that President to ultimately promote--anyone he chooses to appoint to a key position. But they cannot disagree that Mr. Blinken has served the Nation admirably, with dignity, diplomacy, and has honored every position he has held, that he has devoted his life serving this Nation's national security interests, and he has excelled at doing it. Frankly, if Mr. Blinken is unqualified, then the bar my colleagues have set is too high for any human being to reach.

    I ask those who would object to this nominee, what additional qualifications can there be? Outside of already occupying the position for which he is nominated, it is hard to understand what additional qualifications my colleagues would expect Mr. Blinken to have to demonstrate his worthiness. Perhaps they would prefer that he be nominated by a different President whose policies they agree with, but that is not how it works.

    This is an eminently qualified candidate who has the full trust and confidence of this President, my colleagues' policy concerns notwithstanding. They may disagree with specific policy decisions of this President dutifully carried out--I repeat, carried out--by Mr. Blinken.

    Even listening to my dear friend and colleague Senator McCain, a distinguished member of the committee whom I regret we are going to lose in the next Congress from the committee--when he made the comment that the President's personal decision--referring to Syria--when all his national security advisers recommended providing arms to the Free Syrian Army, Mr. Blinken is clearly one of those national security advisers, but the President is the one who ultimately makes the decision on what policy will be pursued.

    That leads us to the questions about Mr. Blinken's participation and decisions involving Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, with which certain Members of this body have taken issue.

    Mr. Blinken has had to defend those decisions no matter his personal views or advice. That is his job. You can disagree with the President's policies, but you cannot blame this nominee for doing his sworn constitutional duty to carry them out.

    I want to be very clear. We cannot judge the qualifications of this nominee or, for that fact, any nominee based on the policy decisions of this President or any President. He has been part of this administration, to be sure, but if the Senate starts to hold every nominee to account for every decision made by every President they serve, I think we will find that there is no one who will pass muster and no one who will be confirmed.

    I happen to think President Bush's decision to evade Iraq was a geostrategic blunder of the highest order. I opposed it at the time, and history, tragically, has proven that judgment right. The brave sacrifice of our young men and women and the squandering of hundreds of billions of our children's and grandchildren's inheritance have compounded the magnitude of this error. Would my colleagues suggest that I should oppose all future Republican nominees who served in the Bush administration because no matter how qualified they are, somehow they must be held accountable for what I believe history will show in evaluating the Bush Presidency as a historic blunder that led to the civil and secular wars that are changing the shape of the Middle East? I don't believe that is what my colleagues would suggest, but that appears to be how they are judging Mr. Blinken. But none of that is reason to oppose Mr. Blinken or any nominee.

    I hear these references to Iraq. Well, Prime Minister Maliki at the time opposed signing a status of forces agreement, and without such an agreement it was impossible to have our forces continue to be in Iraq subject to the possibilities of any issues being pursued legally under Iraqi law versus our own law, or, in Afghanistan, the question of what the force size should be in 2014. The President has made the statement of what it is to be, and maybe we can even have disagreements with what the size of those forces should be in 2014 as we see things evolve, but it is not for someone in an appointed position who is supposed to carry out the President's policies to say: No, we are not going to have that size; we are going to have a bigger size.

    I fully expect that if confirmed, there will be a number of issues where Mr. Blinken and I probably won't see eye to eye--or, rather, the administration he will represent and I may not see eye to eye. When those issues arise, I fully intend to let Mr. Blinken know exactly how I feel and to engage him in debate to influence the policy, and I will avail myself of all the tools a Senator can use to do so.

    Frankly, given his experience working for this body and given his professionalism and experience with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I would rather it be Mr. Blinken who will be across the table from me rather than someone else who doesn't have any understanding of this institution and the prerogatives of Senators. I am confident he will understand where I am coming from even when we disagree, and I am confident that he willing approach these discussions with an open mind, that he will seek to persuade but he also will be open to persuasion.

    I don't think any of us here in this body would like to be held to a standard of perfection in our judgments, one that holds no space for loyal service to this Nation and no space for qualified nominees who have honorably and faithfully implemented the policies of their President.

    Let's be clear. We are not judging the President's policies; we are judging the qualifications of a man who has loyally and professionally carried out those policies.

    I do not doubt the sincerity of my colleagues in this body. Even when I may disagree, I do not doubt that they are seeking what they believe is the best for our Nation. At times I think they are right. At other times I think [[Page S6896]] they are wrong. Today, as it relates to Mr. Blinken, they are wrong.

    Tony Blinken is a tireless and able public servant who serves the Nation well, and I urge my colleagues to confirm this nominee. He is a man of the Senate, a qualified public servant, and an accomplished national security and foreign policy expert.

    I yield the floor.

    I suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The assistant legislative clerk proceeded to call the roll.

    Mr. LEVIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Mr. LEVIN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that I be permitted to proceed as though in morning business for 5 minutes.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

    Ending Insider Trading in Commodities Act Mr. LEVIN. Madam President, last month the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations concluded a 2-year bipartisan investigation into Wall Street bank involvement with physical commodities. Our investigation, which focused on Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase, culminated in a 400-page report and 2 days of hearings. The subcommittee's investigation found these banks involved in a breathtaking array of physical commodities activities. They owned coal mines and oil pipelines, oil tankers and refineries, electric powerplants, massive amounts of copper and aluminum and even uranium.

    We examined multiple aspects of financial holding company involvement with physical commodities, including the nature and extent of those activities with the attendant risk, such as the threat to a bank's safety and soundness from a catastrophe along the lines of the BP oilspill in the Gulf of Mexico. We also examined the impact of those activities on consumers, manufacturers, and markets. One key area of concern relates to possible price manipulation and unfair trading.

    What we found is that involvement in physical commodities gave these banks access to important nonpublic information that they could use to profit in their trading of financial products tied to those same commodities. In the stock market, the use of such nonpublic information is prohibited, but no such clear prohibition exists in commodities markets. That gives the biggest Wall Street banks an enormous incentive to pursue physical commodities activities--often to the detriment of consumers and manufacturers--in order to profit in financial trades by the use of the nonpublic information they gain from their physical commodities activity and to provide the opportunity in some cases to engage in market manipulation.

    I have introduced, with Senator McCain, a bill intended to prevent such abuses. The Ending Insider Trading in Commodities Act, S. 3013, which we just introduced, would prevent a large financial institution from trading in physical commodities and commodity-related financial instruments while at the same time in possession of material nonpublic information arising from its ownership or interests in a business or facility used to store, ship, or use the same commodity. A large financial institution should not be able to control, for instance, a huge number of warehouses and then use the nonpublic information that it gains and sometimes creates from the operation of those warehouses to trade on the same kinds of commodities stored in those warehouses.

    As we learned from our investigation, a financial institution that owns warehouses may manipulate warehouse operations in ways that move the prices of the very financial instruments and commodities the financial institution is trading.

    In the case of aluminum, we saw that Goldman Sachs owned dozens of warehouses in the Detroit area, which it used to build a near monopoly on the storage of aluminum in the United States that is used to settle trades on the London Metal Exchange, which sets the benchmark price for aluminum around the world. Using that dominant position, Goldman approved warehouse deals and practices that lengthened the lines, the queues for metal owners to get their metal out of the warehouses to nearly 2 years. By lengthening the queues, Goldman raised the premium that includes such costs as storage and transportation and which, along with the London Metal Exchange's benchmark price, makes up the total price consumers pay for aluminum. Goldman manipulated these warehouse practices in ways that made metal owners wait to get their metal and influenced prices paid to buy aluminum and hedge aluminum costs. All the while, Goldman was trading in aluminum and aluminum-related financial instruments.

    It is a rigged game. It needs to be stopped, and that is what this bill is intended to do. I thank Senator McCain for joining me in this important effort. We hope our colleagues will take up this bill and carry on this effort in the next Congress.

    (The remarks of Mr. LEVIN pertaining to the introduction of S. 3019 are printed in today's Record under ``Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions.'') Mr. LEVIN. I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The clerk will call the roll.

    The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

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