He’s hopeful, although, that issues will change beneath Biden — and that he might be the particular person to get Congress to fall in line.
“Past the realities of a 50-50 Senate, once we speak about overseas coverage, each time we will get a bipartisan foundation for one thing — possibly not absolute, 100 members — we’re stronger on this planet,” Menendez (D-N.J.) mentioned in an interview. “And I imagine President Biden believes that.”
The White Home is off to a tough begin, nevertheless. Menendez shortly 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’s only a primary step and that the administration plans to take concrete measures holding Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally liable for his position on this heinous crime,” Menendez mentioned 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 interrupt together with his celebration and has a historical past of constructing issues troublesome for presidents who attempt to strong-arm Congress. Retaining Menendez within the loop might be important for Biden’s overseas coverage successes.
“That makes all of the distinction on this planet,” Menendez mentioned. “It doesn’t imply that we’re going to agree one hundred pc 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 prone to disagree on a handful of key areas: the Iran nuclear deal, U.S. relations with Cuba, the usage of U.S. navy pressure 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 offer any concessions to these governments. He seemingly gained’t take it straightforward on the Biden crew, lots of whose members served beneath Obama, as they search to salvage agreements just like the Iran deal, or reestablish ties with Cuba — relationships that have been broken beneath former President Donald Trump. He’ll additionally insist on larger congressional say if and when the USA makes use of navy pressure abroad.
The Biden crew is “proper to wish to have relationship with him. They’re going to agree with him on numerous issues,” mentioned Ben Rhodes, who served as a key pressure behind diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran through the Obama years.
“However at a sure level, there’s a Senate view and an administration view, and until you need [Menendez] to be accountable for your Cuba coverage, your Venezuela coverage or your Iran coverage, you’re seemingly going to achieve a degree the place it’s important to have a troublesome dialog,” Rhodes mentioned.
A “sounding board” and an ally
Only a month into the brand new administration, Menendez instructed POLITICO that Biden’s crew is already abandoning the Obama mannequin — which he mentioned didn’t at all times worth Congress’ position in shaping U.S. overseas coverage — and as a substitute working intently with the Senate to coordinate and search enter.
Certainly, senators have causes to be optimistic. Biden is a former chair of the International 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 position of the Senate, and likewise how useful the Senate might be,” mentioned Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), a senior member of the International 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 essentially 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 conflict authorizations that presidents from each events have used to justify U.S. navy exercise within the Center East.
Biden’s high deputies, apparently desperate to not repeat the perceived errors of the Obama administration, are already working to maintain Menendez completely satisfied.
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 crucial nationwide safety problems with our time. My crew and I are making it a private precedence to achieve out and interact recurrently with him and his crew, and we are going to proceed to take action.”
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 searching for lawmakers’ help for a significant overseas coverage initiative. Menendez’s penchant for working intently with Republicans might 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 choose his mind, as a result of if Bob can get onto one thing, Republicans are going to take it critically,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) mentioned in an interview.
Menendez has vowed to conduct vigorous oversight of the Biden administration’s overseas coverage — one thing that was sorely missing beneath 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 anticipate Sen. Menendez to put again. I anticipate he’ll be fairly aggressive,” mentioned Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the second-highest rating Democrat on the International 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 mentioned his White Home was “hostile towards Congress” as a result of lawmakers have been in search of to handle a problem 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’ll do that with out us,” Cardin added.
Menendez felt that the Obama administration didn’t seek the advice of sufficient with him prematurely of constructing key overseas coverage selections. Regardless of his senior rank on the committee of jurisdiction, main strikes have been typically offered to him as a fait accompli, individuals who know Menendez mentioned.
“They didn’t seek the advice of sufficient on the Iran deal. They only didn’t,” mentioned an individual near 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 particularly is loath to seem gentle 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 may not exit of his option to current obstacles in the event that they preserve him knowledgeable.
“I believe it is very important embrace [us], so long as individuals are engaged in good religion, not simply in being obstructionists on the finish of the day,” Menendez mentioned.
Former Obama administration officers agreed that conserving Menendez engaged early on was important, but in addition mentioned that everybody understands the implications of a Senate cut up 50-50 between the 2 events. Menendez gained’t wish to be seen as a spoiler for his fellow Democrats, some mentioned.
“I’ve each purpose to imagine it will likely be a cooperative effort,” one of many former officers mentioned. “I don’t suppose [the Biden team] thinks he’ll attempt to screw them.”
That being mentioned, there’s some nervousness in Biden circles in regards to the Senate affirmation odds dealing with 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 position in whether or not her nomination is authorised.
That has led to hypothesis that one purpose Biden has staked out a comparatively robust line on Iran in the intervening time — 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 suppose they’re anxious about nominations,” one other former Obama administration official mentioned of the Biden crew. “That’s a part of the rationale I believe you’re seeing a more durable line on Iran proper now.”