SECRETARY BLINKEN: Mr. Chairman, thank you very, very much. To you, to Chairman Leahy, Ranking Member Graham, I’m grateful for this opportunity to talk about the administration’s proposed budget for the State Department.
Let me just start by saying that later today we will welcome back to the United States Trevor Reed, who was wrongfully detained in Russia. We’re deeply grateful to our allies and partners who helped in this effort to bring him home. And I especially want to thank Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Ambassador Roger Carstens, known well to all of you; Ambassador John Sullivan, in Moscow; and others in our government, including in this Congress, who worked relentlessly to bring Trevor home and who continue to press for the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. citizens wrongfully detained abroad.
As you’ve noted, several of us just came from a ceremony honoring Madeleine Albright. And just to take a moment to honor her extraordinary service, she was a friend to me, a mentor to me, someone I sought counsel in. She had, I think as you all know, an incredible clarity of voice – a voice that I think we can all still hear, and an ability to really get to the essence of things. Few diplomats have so clearly embodied the ideals for which our country stands, or done more to project them around the world. We mourn her passing, which is softened only by knowing that her example is going to continue to guide our department and our foreign policy for years to come. I look forward to finding ways to honor her in the department.
And Chairman Leahy left the room, but I did want to say to him that this may be the last time that I have the privilege of speaking on a budget request before a committee that he leads. And let me just simply join in the chorus of people thanking Chairman Leahy for his extraordinary service – not just for the service, but for the way that he has served and continues to serve. Always championing the vital importance of investing in diplomacy and development; always insisting that human rights be at the heart of our foreign policy, including, of course, by authoring a law requiring our government to withhold support for foreign security forces that commit gross human rights violations; and always being a partner to secretaries of state across eight administrations. The department will always appreciate Chairman Leahy’s support for our people and for the work they do around the world.
I read about a surprise tribute that Chairman Leahy received last week in Vermont’s General Assembly. I was struck by something that he said, and I quote: “I think Vermont as a place where you can develop your conscience. I think of the Senate as a place that should be the conscience of the nation, and sometimes is.”
So I would say for a long time, Senator Leahy has in fact been the conscience of this institution. When I served here, I certainly felt that very strongly. Our nation and the world are better for it.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Graham, I have a statement that goes to the budget proposal, goes to our modernization agenda, but in the interest of time, I’m happy to submit it for the record so that we can get to a conversation and questions.