WASHINGTON — Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued a scathing rebuke of Sen. Rand Paul's move to block more than 60 State Department nominees as Paul seeks information from the Biden administration about Covid-19's origins.
The statement, first obtained by NBC News, does not mention Paul, R-Ky., by name, but it calls the "blatant refusal by one member" to advance nominees "unacceptable."
Menendez, D-N.J., said Paul's move "puts our country’s national security and global influence in peril."
"I call on the members of this body engaged in blanket refusals to confirm nominees to stop playing games with our national security. It only undermines our national security and our ability to compete with the PRC," Menendez said in the statement, using the abbreviation for the People's Republic of China.
Paul has blocked State Department nominees in an effort to "access COVID-19 documents being held by various government agencies that are under the jurisdiction of the foreign relations committee," a Paul spokesperson has said.
The spokesperson said Paul would oppose nominees unless Menendez "stopped obstructing oversight efforts."
Menendez said in his statement that strengthening the U.S.' "diplomatic posture across the globe, remaining competitive against the PRC, and disrupting Beijing’s growing diplomatic advantage are all goals that should share widespread bipartisan support across the Senate."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this week that the delays are “undermining our national security.”
Paul responded to Menendez's statement Thursday afternoon, saying that there are still documents he wants released from the U.S. Agency for International Development and that the documents he has been given access to are accessible for him to read only in private, telling NBC News, “I’m not allowed to take those documents out.”
“I actually like approving ambassadors. I almost never have blocked any ambassadors. I will let them all go, but it’s going to take some cooperation,” Paul said. “Biden has the ability to do it. Blinken has the ability. You think Blinken can’t pick up the phone and call the head of USAID and say, 'Dammit, we need our ambassadors'? But it’s the only leverage I have.”
Blinken said this week that 38 of the 62 nominees in the nomination process have completed all other steps and are awaiting Senate confirmation and that 35 of the 38 are career foreign service officers, some whose nominations have languished in the Senate for more than 18 months.
"I respect and value its critical oversight role. It’s crucial ensuring that we have highly qualified individuals representing the United States around the world. But that’s not what is happening here," Blinken said Monday. "No one is questioning the qualifications of these career diplomats. They’re being blocked for leverage on other, unrelated issues. It’s irresponsible, and it’s doing harm to our national security."
Blinken added that his team has worked "extensively" with Paul.
"We’ve provided documents and other information that he’s requested. But unfortunately, he continues to block all of our nominees," Blinken said.