At Senate Foreign Relations Hearing, Portman Questions Biden Administration Nominees on Abraham Accords, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

June 16, 2022 | Press Releases

At Senate Foreign Relations Hearing, Portman Questions Biden Administration Nominees on Abraham Accords, Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) questioned three Biden administration nominees to serve as Assistant Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, Ambassador to the State of Qatar, and Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues. Portman received a commitment that the Abraham Accords would be honored and expanded upon, especially given his legislation – the Israel Relations Normalization Act – was signed into law last March. He also spoke of the importance that the U.S. work closely with Qatar, as they prioritize selling liquefied natural gas to Europe during Russia’s war against Ukraine. In addition, he questioned whether a nominee would follow the letter of the law when it comes to using taxpayer money to perform abortions or to advocate for or against them, which the nominee said she would follow all statutory restrictions.

A transcript of Senator Portman’s questioning can be found below and the video can be found here.

Senator Portman: “Mr. Chairman, and thanks to the nominees for stepping up to serve. Again, many of you have already been in public service and we appreciate your continued services as I’ve talked to Mr. Ratney about. I’ve listened with great interest to the back and forth, Dr. Wittes, with you and Senator Young. I am the co-author of what is called the Israel Relations Normalization Act, which is now law. It was signed into law in March and it promotes the ‘so-called’ Abraham Accords and their expansion. The one question that I would have, in addition to the ones that you have already answered regarding your previous comments about the Abraham Accords, is whether you’re committed to this and committed to pursuing a policy agenda which would be deepening the existing Abraham Accord agreements and expanding to other countries, including some countries whose ambassador nominees are with us today, like Saudi Arabia. So, would you be committed to expanding it and would you be committed to deepening the existing relationships?”

Dr. Tamara Cofman Wittes: “Senator Portman, thank you and the answer is yes, absolutely.”

Senator Portman: “I won’t prolong this then. It does seem counter to your previous comments, but I’m glad that you have had a change of heart and I think that it is incredibly positive in terms of peace in the Middle East. Not just for Israel as you noted, but for those countries that choose to connect in that way.

“Mr. Davis, Qatar has become a significant producer of liquefied natural gas, as you know, including for exports. Last month, they signed an energy cooperation deal with Germany, which I was glad to see. They need new sources of energy in Germany, obviously, and other parts of Europe to get away from their dependency on Russia. Can you talk a little about that and what role you expect to play in expanding that U.S. cooperation with Qatar with regard to energy production, and particularly with regard to exports that relate to the Ukraine-Russia war?”

Mr. Timmy T. Davis: “Senator, I appreciate the question. In fact, you make a good point about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. Qatar has been very clear about their view that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is unjustified. As you note, they have signed a deal with Germany, they’ve worked with the European Union to provide whatever capacity they have to the EU. They’ve also made clear, that countries in Asia and around the world cannot, during this war, outbid European countries on current contracts. The truth is that Qatar is leading the way on liquid natural gas and working to build capacity through a couple of deals that they have in the United States. The Golden Pass, an LNG terminal in Texas, and a Petra Chemical plant in which they have invested $8 billion, also in Texas. The Qataris has made it clear that they want to be a resource for the Europeans during this time, and if confirmed, it will be a priority for me to work with the Qataris to ensure they we identify areas of operation and opportunities for helping alleviate the energy crisis in Europe.”

Senator Portman: “I appreciate so much your response to that. I was recently with Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Foreign Minister of Qatar and he made it very clear to me that they are taking a proactive approach here. Both with regard to Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine, and also with regard to this issue of helping Europe to wean itself from Russian sources of energy so I think you can play a very important role there and I again, thank you again for your previous service and your willingness to step forward. I think you will find that Qatar wants to deepen our relationship and wants to be an active player in this current problem.

“Dr. Gupta, just quickly, my time is running out here. You have expressed strong support for access to abortion as a reproductive right, you have publicly opposed Mexico City policy, and you have urged the World Health Assembly to classify sexual and reproductive health services as essential services. My question for you is, are you aware of all of the statutory restrictions on the use of taxpayer money to perform abortions or to advocate for or against them? It would include the Leahy Amendment, the Helms Amendment, the Siljander Amendment, the Biden Amendment. Do you, if confirmed, commit to uphold these restrictions in law?”

Ms. Geeta Rao Gupta: “I do, Senator. Thank you for the question. I am very aware of those legal restrictions and the use of foreign assistance funds. And if confirmed, I will follow the letter of the law.”