The road to Joe Biden's foreign policy runs through Bob Menendez

He’s hopeful, although, that issues will change underneath Biden — and that he will be the individual to get Congress to fall in line.

“Past the realities of a 50-50 Senate, after we speak about foreign policy, at any time when we will get a bipartisan foundation for one thing — perhaps not absolute, 100 members — we’re stronger on this planet,” Menendez (D-N.J.) stated in an interview. “And I consider President Biden believes that.”

The White Home is off to a tough begin, nonetheless. Menendez rapidly registered his dissatisfaction final week when the Biden crew didn’t give him a heads up in regards to the president’s retaliatory strikes towards Iranian installations in Syria; and he and different Democrats are already calling for extra extreme punishments towards Saudi Arabia after a U.S. intelligence report formally pinned the blame for journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s homicide on the dominion’s crown prince and de facto chief, Mohammed bin Salman.


“I’m hopeful it is just a primary step and that the administration plans to take concrete measures holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally chargeable for his function on this heinous crime,” Menendez stated in an announcement.

It’s not stunning, then, that there’s an ongoing White Home marketing campaign to curry favor with Menendez, who hasn’t been afraid to break together with his occasion and has a historical past of creating issues tough for presidents who strive to strong-arm Congress. Protecting Menendez within the loop can be important for Biden’s foreign policy successes.

“That makes all of the distinction on this planet,” Menendez stated. “It doesn’t imply that we’re going to agree 100% of the time. But it surely does imply that we’ll perceive one another, the place we’re coming from — and extra seemingly than not, we are going to agree.”

That could be a contact optimistic.

The hawkish Menendez and the Biden administration are seemingly to disagree on a handful of key areas: the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. relations with Cuba, the usage of U.S. navy power abroad and what to do in regard to Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan dictator.

Broadly talking, Menendez has taken a tough line on authoritarian regimes and he frowns on negotiations or offers that seem to give any concessions to these governments. He seemingly gained’t take it simple on the Biden crew, a lot of whose members served underneath Obama, as they search to salvage agreements just like the Iran deal, or reestablish ties with Cuba — relationships that had been broken underneath former President Donald Trump. He’ll additionally insist on better congressional say if and when the USA makes use of navy power abroad.

The Biden crew is “proper to need to have relationship with him. They’re going to agree with him on numerous issues,” stated Ben Rhodes, who served as a key power behind diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran in the course of the Obama years.

“However at a sure level, there’s a Senate view and an administration view, and except you need [Menendez] to be in control of your Cuba policy, your Venezuela policy or your Iran policy, you’re seemingly going to attain a degree the place you have got to have a tough dialog,” Rhodes stated.

A “sounding board” and an ally

Only a month into the brand new administration, Menendez informed POLITICO that Biden’s crew is already abandoning the Obama mannequin — which he stated didn’t at all times worth Congress’ function in shaping U.S. foreign policy — and as a substitute working carefully with the Senate to coordinate and search enter.

Certainly, senators have causes to be optimistic. Biden is a former chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the previous employees director for the panel.

“You haven’t had an administration as populated with individuals who perceive the function of the Senate, and likewise how useful the Senate will be,” stated Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations panel who’s shut with Menendez. “I believe they’ve an enormous alternative with Bob because the chair, given who the gamers are within the administration, to actually have an excellent working relationship.”

However Kaine has been among the many loudest critics of Biden’s airstrikes in Syria final week, arguing that the president ought to have sought an authorization from Congress. Kaine has been main the cost for years to scrap the 2001 and 2002 struggle authorizations that presidents from each events have used to justify U.S. navy exercise within the Center East.


Biden’s prime deputies, apparently keen to not repeat the perceived errors of the Obama administration, are already working to hold Menendez comfortable.

In an on-the-record assertion to POLITICO, Biden’s nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan referred to as Menendez “a sounding board, a supply of recommendation, and a number one voice on an important nationwide safety problems with our time. My crew and I are making it a private precedence to attain out and interact commonly with him and his crew, and we are going to proceed to achieve this.”

In a separate on-the-record assertion, Blinken promised related engagement, saying Menendez “has confirmed himself to be each principled and efficient.”

However don’t poke the Bob

Menendez’s allies say the Biden administration would cross him at its personal peril — particularly when Biden is in search of lawmakers’ help for a serious foreign policy initiative. Menendez’s penchant for working carefully with Republicans will be an asset to an administration that got here into workplace emphasizing bipartisanship. And in a 50-50 Senate, each vote counts.

“I might encourage the Biden administration to decide his mind, as a result of if Bob can get onto one thing, Republicans are going to take it severely,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) stated in an interview.

Menendez has vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Biden administration’s foreign policy — one thing that was sorely missing underneath former President Donald Trump, whose administration routinely flouted Congress, ignored the regulation, and was overtly hostile to each Democrats and Republicans.

“When issues aren’t going in addition to they need to, don’t count on Sen. Menendez to lay again. I count on he’ll be fairly aggressive,” stated Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the second-highest rating Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Presidents have lengthy sought to blunt efforts by Congress to hamstring the manager department. Cardin skilled that hostility first-hand when he led the cost in 2012 for the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian human rights violators. Obama finally signed the invoice into regulation, however Cardin stated his White Home was “hostile towards Congress” as a result of lawmakers had been searching for to handle a difficulty that was historically managed by the manager department.

“There’s been, traditionally, under-performance by each administration on coping with Congress. There’s a view that they will do that with out us,” Cardin added.

Menendez felt that the Obama administration didn’t seek the advice of sufficient with him prematurely of creating key foreign policy choices. Regardless of his senior rank on the committee of jurisdiction, main strikes had been usually introduced to him as a fait accompli, individuals who know Menendez stated.

“They didn’t seek the advice of sufficient on the Iran deal. They only didn’t,” stated an individual shut to Menendez. “They knew it was his No. 1 situation.”

Obama aides might have had causes for this — worrying that Menendez would draw pink strains that might field of their choices. Menendez specifically is loath to seem comfortable on authoritarian regimes in locations like Cuba and Iran.

Even when the Biden administration retains Menendez looped in to his satisfaction, he might finally disagree with a few of their initiatives. However he won’t exit of his means to current obstacles in the event that they hold him knowledgeable.

“I believe it is crucial to embody [us], so long as individuals are engaged in good religion, not simply in being obstructionists on the finish of the day,” Menendez stated.

Former Obama administration officers agreed that preserving Menendez engaged early on was important, but additionally stated that everybody understands the implications of a Senate cut up 50-50 between the 2 events. Menendez gained’t need to be seen as a spoiler for his fellow Democrats, some stated.

“I’ve each cause to consider will probably be a cooperative effort,” one of many former officers stated. “I don’t assume [the Biden team] thinks he’ll strive to screw them.”

That being stated, there may be some nervousness in Biden circles in regards to the Senate affirmation odds going through a number of the new president’s nominees who labored on the 2015 Iran deal.

Particularly, Biden aides are involved about Wendy Sherman, a lead negotiator on the Iran deal who’s nominated to function deputy secretary of State. Menendez will play a key function in whether or not her nomination is accredited.

That has led to hypothesis that one cause Biden has staked out a comparatively robust line on Iran in the meanwhile — demanding Tehran return to compliance with the nuclear deal earlier than the U.S. lifts sanctions — is to assuage Menendez and different Iran hawks as they contemplate Sherman’s nomination.

“I do assume they’re nervous about nominations,” one other former Obama administration official stated of the Biden crew. “That’s a part of the explanation I believe you’re seeing a more durable line on Iran proper now.”

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