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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript - Security Assistance to Egypt

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GREGORY: Let me turn to another aspect of the U.S. response, and that's Congress. Joining me now is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat from New Jersey, Robert Menendez. Senator, welcome back.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D-NJ/Chair, Foreign Relations Committee): Good to be with you.

GREGORY: Let's talk about the U.S. response. You said back in March, that American security assistance to Egypt cannot be a blank check. Do you think the administration failed to exert the pressure, a billion and a half in U.S. aid to Egypt to put more pressure on Morsi at a time when he was becoming a wayward leader?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, I-- I do think that the-- the reality is that this is a very nascent democracy. This country doesn't have a history of democracy. And what we expect of democracy overnight is not something we're going to see here. So, we were trying to nurture along a path that would move to what really needs to happen, which is an Egypt for all. The only way that Egypt will succeed is if it's an Egypt for all. And that means a-- a participation in the government of all different sectors of Egyptian society. And so, the reality now is what do we do and using our assistance as leverage at the end of the day…

GREGORY: So, how do we do that?

SEN. MENENDEZ: …to ensure that we end up with an Egypt for all.

GREGORY: How do we use that leverage now?

SEN. MENENDEZ: I'm sorry.

GREGORY: How do we use that leverage now?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, look, I think first of all, we'll have to make sure that the military gets a very clear message that we want to see a transition to a civilian government as quickly as possible. I think we have to get a process in which we urge all of the parties to participate together, that we come to an election as soon as possible, that that can be put together. That we look at the possibility of a new constitution, and at the end of the day, you know, while we have already made some obligations on that 1.4 billion, by no means have we made the overwhelming amount of that obligation, this is an opportunity to have a pause and say to the Egyptians you have an opportunity to come together. You have to have the military understand that that's what we're looking for, a transition right away, as soon as possible from any efforts. They have shown themselves not to be interested in power directly because, just as in the Mubarak uprising and these demonstrations were bigger even than the Mubarak uprising, they moved towards a transition to a civilian government. We just have to make sure that the transition this time is much better, more pluralistic, and that brings an Egypt for all.

GREGORY: Chairman, you follow these closely-- these issues closely. This is a bad day for political Islam, not just in Egypt but elsewhere. The Turks apparently very unhappy about this and a lot of people are watching including Shadi Hamid who is an expert at Brookings who knows the Muslim Brotherhood very well. And this is something he wrote. He said, "2013 will stand as an historic moment in Islamic lore, shaping future generations of Islamist activists and deepening their already powerful narrative of persecution, repression and regret. America is blamed for enough as it is. There is no need to add another grievance to the list. The Obama administration would be wise to distance itself from the army's actions and use its leverage, particularly the promise of financial assistance to pressure the military to respect the rights of Islamists." How important is it to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in the fold here unless they separate and even take up arms struggle?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Look, it would be much preferable had President Morsi called early elections and subjected to himself to elections and shown whether he had the support of the nation. That didn't happen. Of course, an Egypt for all includes in my mind, participation from the Muslim Brotherhood. But, you know, President Morsi himself acted rather dictatorially back in November when he said that his decrees were not subject to judicial review, when he said the constitutional assembly was not subject to-- to judicial review. So at the end of the day, while I would have liked to have seen early elections and then see him test his support among the people and the people would have had a choice and, therefore, less likely to have them be further radi-- be radicalized, at the end of the day, that's not what happened. So now the question is can we bring everybody together to create a more inclusive society in terms of the representation that it has in government? If we can do that, then Egypt has a possibility. I-- I agree with Tom Friedman that if, in fact, it is-- if it's not an Egypt for all, then succeeding in the future in-- in addition to the political issues, the tremendous economic challenges that exist. But we have vital national security interests here. We care about transit to the Suez Canal. We care about the Sinai. We care about not having attacks on Gaza into Israel. These are all-- we care about terrorism. So these are all critical issues in national security that we have to look at as-- as it relates to our own engagement moving forward.

GREGORY: Senator, let me ask you about another national security-- security concern that is NSA leaker Edward Snowden, who is still stuck at a hotel in this transit zone in a Russian-- in Russia's airport in Moscow. He's been offered asylum now by Venezuela. There're other countries in Latin America, including Bolivia and Nicaragua, also offering him asylum. Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, what are the repercussions? What should the repercussions be for those countries if they grant him asylum?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, clearly, it's-- it's a-- it's-- it's very clear that any of these countries that accept Snowden, offer him political asylum, is taking a-- a step against the United States. It's making a very clear statement. I'm not surprised by the countries that are offering him asylum. They like sticking it to the United States. I think, you know, you have to look, you know, whether you look at trade preferences that-- that may exist with these countries, other elements of our policy, our aid, our trade. You have to look at it and-- and decide, in fact, if any of these countries actually accept Snowden and he gets there, then you're going to have to decide how you react. But clearly, any such acceptance of Snowden to any country, any of these three or any other, is going to put them directly against the United States. And they need to know that.

GREGORY: Senator, quickly, before I let you go, one domestic question--that is the fight over health care. The administration saying this week they're going to delay the employer mandate, a key part of the health care law. How concerned are you that the administration has just sparked a new fire among critics of this health care law who say that it's unworkable, it was not well thought out and ought to just be repealed?

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, David, if ten angels came swearing from above that this is the best law for the country's health, there would be opponents who would say the angels lied. The reality is-- is that this is an opportunity to get it right. Ninety-six percent of all companies in America weren't subject to the mandate because they're under 50 employees. Those who are subject to the mandate, 95 percent of them, already offer insurance. So we're talking about probably one percent of the American workforce that works for a company subject to the mandate that didn't get insurance and will be able to get it in the health exchanges that open up in October. So I think getting it right is important, and that's what the administration was trying to do. Opponents will take any movement. Had they not taken the time, they would have criticized them for-- for not giving the right type of regulatory framework for the reporting to take place. So the reality is-- is, I think, the criticism would come no matter what.

GREGORY: All right. Senator Menendez, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. We're going to take a break here. Andrea and Chuck, you'll stick around with us. Jeff, Tom, Robin, thank you all very much for your insights on these issues.

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