At Hearing, Portman Secures Commitments from State Dept. Nominees to Protect Our Nation from Deadly Drugs, Pursue Hypersonic Technology for American Safety & Stand Up for Israel

July 21, 2020 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) asked three State Department nominees for their commitments, if confirmed, to protect the country from the influx of deadly drugs like crystal meth and fentanyl, pursue hypersonic technology for the safety of all Americans, and stand up as a strong ally of Israel.

The nominee to be the Legal Advisor of the Department of State, C.J. Mahoney, committed to Portman that he will continue to push back on the politically-motivated decisions by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to pursue legal actions against the United States and its allies. Earlier this year, Portman and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), along with a supermajority of the Senate, sent a letter urging Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to use America’s influence to curtail the politically driven investigations by the ICC against Israel. 

In addition, the nominee to be an Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Carlos Trujillo, committed to Portman that he would actively work with his counterparts in Mexico, Central America, and South America to identify the criminals who traffic precursor chemicals and are increasingly bringing deadly drugs like crystal meth and fentanyl across the southern border and into America. Portman has led efforts in the U.S. Senate to provide more resources to combat the nation’s drug addiction epidemic. Portman’s bipartisan Synthetics Trafficking & Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, which become law in 2018, is working to help reduce the supply of fentanyl shipped into Ohio through the U.S. Postal Service.   

Finally, he secured a commitment from Ambassador Marshall Billingslea, the nominee to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, that if confirmed, he would make it a priority to pursue hypersonic technology research in the United States to ensure that the U.S. can compete with the emerging technologies in China and Russia. Senator Portman and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced an amendment to the Senate’s FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to require the Department of Defense (DOD) to study partnering with existing government facilities, like NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio, to perform research and testing on hypersonic devices.

Excerpts from the hearing can be found below and a video can be found here.


Portman: “Thank you Mr. Chairman and I want to thank you for holding this hearing today and I want to take my colleagues for being here. This is important, this is one of our responsibilities. We talked earlier about what this committee is supposed to be doing, and one thing is to ensure that well qualified candidates, and I think all three of these are great examples of that, who have waited a long, long time, have the opportunity to serve their country. And in particular, the State Department is understaffed and they need help, so I’m glad that these three individuals have chosen to step up and serve. And I think we’ve got to be sure that we are addressing this backlog. And again, I appreciate my colleagues being here from both sides of the aisle and the chairman for holding this hearing.

“I’ve got a letter here regarding C.J. Mahoney, some of you have seen it, I think. It’s a letter of recommendation. It’s a bipartisan tribute to C.J. signed by former USTR and State Department officials who served in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama administrations and I would ask, Mr. Chairman, having delivered this digitally to your staff, unanimous consent that this be part of the record. I’ve got some perspective on C.J.’s background having served at the State Department’s Legal Advisors Office back when I was in law school and then some 22 or so years later being U.S. Trade Representative. His most recent job was being deputy there and did a great job on USMCA and other matters as has been said. As our colleagues have said during introductions of C.J., he’s particularly well suited for this role. His background, his experience, his accomplishments, his intellect, his judgment and I will say his temperament and bipartisan approach that we’ve seen, even today, is important. So let’s be sure and move quickly on this nomination as well as the other two that I plan to support today because again we want these good people to be in place helping our country at this time.

“C.J., my question to you is about the ICC, the International Criminal Court has made a recent decision to investigate Israel for alleged crimes in the West Bank and also in Jerusalem, also in Gaza. And as you know, Israel is not even a signatory according to the Rome Statute. Second, the ICC has no jurisdiction over the disputed territory, has not in the past and under some rules can only initiate actions that are brought by states and this action was brought by the Palestinian Authority not a state. So I have worked with my colleague Ben Cardin, who is here today, to put together a letter to your future boss, I hope, Secretary Pompeo on this issue. By the way, it received enormous bipartisan support, 67 of our colleagues signed the letter, including, I think, all members of the committee who are here today. I would ask you about this because to me this is an example, not just of them not following the rules of the ICC but also being politicized and the politicization of the ICC has been a concern in Republican and Democratic administrations alike. That’s why, frankly, we have not joined, so I would ask you about this. I would also ask you about the ICC’s recent decision to pursue an investigation into war crimes against US and allied troops for actions in Afghanistan. Again, even though the United States in this case is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute. So, if confirmed do you pledge to continue to push back against these efforts by the ICC to expand its legal mandate and to protect the United States and its troops and our allies from politically motivated prosecutions?”

The Honorable C.J. Mahoney, nominee to be Legal Advisor of the Department of State: “Absolutely, Senator.”

Portman: “I appreciate that. Ambassador Trujillo, we’ve been hard hit by this opioid epidemic in my home state of Ohio and around the country and a number of us in the committee have focused on this issue. Unfortunately what we’re seeing right now with the coronavirus pandemic is more addiction, more overdoses, more overdose deaths and this is troubling. It’s partly because of the isolation, I think. I think it’s also partly because of the lack of access to treatment, at least face-to-face. The DEA just came out with a threat assessment, their most recent one saying that meth, crystal meth, cocaine, heroin are all predominately produced in the areas that you’re going to have jurisdiction over - Central America and South America  - and smuggled in the US. They’ve also made a point that the deadliest opioid, fentanyl, is increasingly coming in over our southern border. We’ve got a role here at the State Department to crack down on this, the transnational criminal organization activity. What do you plan to do in your new job to cut down on this drug trafficking across our border, specifically what do you plan to do and will this be part of what you view as your mission in this new job?”

Ambassador Carlos Trujillo, nominee to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs: “Thank you, Senator, for the question. Absolutely, I think the forefront of our mission is keeping Americans safe. I agree with you the fentanyl is by far the most deadly. A lot of those precursor chemicals unfortunately are coming from China. It would be my responsibility if confirmed by this by this committee and by the Senate, working with our Mexican counterparts to identify those precursor criminals to disrupt those transnational criminal organizations and working with some of the tools we have in place through INL and other law enforcement agencies to make sure that we keep those drugs off of our American streets.”

Portman: “Thank you. I hope you’ll make that a personal commitment and a passion in this job, because I think there’s a great opportunity for us to do more working with DHS and the State Department. One final question, if I could Mr. Chairman. Ambassador Billingslea, there’s so many issues to talk to you about, but one would be hypersonic weapons. You might know that in the NDAA, the legislation currently before us in the Senate, we have language, Senator Brown and I, to increase the need for hypersonic testing facilities to include nine DoD facilities, there’s one in Ohio called Plum Brook that is ideally situated to help. But what do you think about hypersonic weapons? What are our adversaries' capabilities here? I hear of some things that are frankly very concerning and what can we do to sure that we’re ready to meet the global challenge of hypersonic weapon competition?”

Ambassador Marshall Billingslea, the nominee to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security: “Thank you Senator, you’re putting your finger on one of the new emerging technologies that’s going to redefine both our conventional strike capabilities as well as ultimately the nuclear deterrent forces, at least with the Russians and possibly the Chinese. I would say without having looked at the specifics of your legislation, we have an urgent need to robustly test a number of emerging hypersonic live vehicle technologies that are coming online, both with the Army, the Navy and potentially in the Air Force. We are, I think it’s fair to say, behind when it comes to the Chinese testing program in particular and the Russians have actually already deployed two nuclear hypersonic weapons on their heavy ICBMs and I expect more to come as the Russians bring online an even larger ICBM called the Sarmat, where they’ll be able to hang multiple of these weapons on them. Hypersonics offer a number of advantages. The United States, I do not believe, is pursuing nuclear weapons in that respect, but conventional armed hypersonics, and these will be, I think, important equalizers for us, specifically in the Pacific region.”

Portman: “Thank you, we’ll get you the language of that amendment and appreciate your commitment to ensuring we can stay with the competition.”