After the Senate Foreign Relations Committee just voted to place 13 Trump administration nominees across diverse positions in the State Department, Senate ranking member Robert Menendez is using another nomination as a negotiating chip to demand details on two controversial White House migration pacts with Guatemala and Mexico.
Senator Menendez (D-N.J.) is blocking the candidacy of Andrew Bremberg as United States ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, until “full and complete copies” of the migration agreements are given to the committee by the Trump White House, according to a statement from Menendez.
“Once those steps are completed,” Menendez’s office said, “in spite of my deep concerns about Mr. Bremberg’s policy positions, which are out of line with most Americans and many Republicans’ views, I will also agree to put Mr. Bremberg on a business meeting.”
In his statement, Menendez also denounced a State Department legal adviser, Marik String, who refused to “even answer basic questions about these agreements.”
A senior Democratic aide told PassBlue that there is a slight chance a committee vote on Bremberg could occur on July 31, if the demands from Menendez are met; the Senate recess begins on Aug. 5 and no other business meetings are likely to be held by then. [Update: The committee did not vote to confirm Bremberg on Aug. 5, so his nomination has been delayed until at least September.]
Both the White House and the State Department deflected questions from PassBlue about the nomination.
Bremberg, a policy adviser at the While House, went through his Senate nomination hearing in late June. In July, a range of human-rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations sent an internal letter to the Senate committee, explaining their opposition to Bremberg’s candidacy because of his policies on reproductive rights, human rights, refugees and other problems. His anti-abortion stance was particularly singled out in the letter.
Bremberg was, for instance, the architect of the reinstitution and expansion of the global gag rule by the Trump administration, banning US government money to nonprofit organizations working overseas that offer abortions or even referral services. (The rule was first imposed by President Reagan, lifted under President Clinton, reimposed by President George W. Bush and lifted again by President Obama.)
Bremberg may be a strong negotiating asset for Menendez not only because of the high-caliber position at the UN in Geneva, but also because Bremberg is close to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader (R-Kentucky), a key Trump ally who also pushed the nomination of Kelly Knight Craft as UN ambassador in New York. Bremberg worked as a policy adviser to McConnell in 2014 and 2015, just before joining Trump’s transition team.
The Senate committee approved the nomination of Knight Craft on July 25. Knight Craft, a multimillion-dollar donor with her husband, Joseph Craft III, to the Trump presidential campaign in 2016, was most recently US ambassador to Canada. The full Senate votes on her nomination this week, according to an aide there.
The US has had no permanent representative at the UN for seven months, and Knight Craft’s nomination has encountered partisan resistance for her possible conflict of interest regarding her extensive investments in the coal industry and the UN’s work on climate change. Nevertheless, she practically sailed through the nomination hearing.
As for the migration agreements, in July the Trump administration signed deals with Guatemala and Mexico to curb the number of migrants and asylum-seekers coming into America, but members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have yet to see full copies of the agreements, some of which were negotiated in secret by the White House.
According to the BBC, migrants seeking to file an asylum claim who pass through Guatemala first would be required to file their asylum claim there. The process, called “safe third countries,” is also being forced on Mexico.
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court blocked the move earlier this month. The deal was signed under threats of tariffs and sanctions from Trump. In June, similar threats resulted in a deal with Mexican authorities to curb migration from its southern border with Guatemala. Mexico’s foreign minister, however, refuses to call Mexico a “safe third country.”
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Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.