Once upon a time, members of Congress viewed it as their job to steer the White House toward a better foreign policy; party solidarity wasn’t reason enough to subordinate their principles. Congress also believed the power of the purse was a tool not simply to constrain, but also to lead the executive branch toward a more robust American global leadership. Those days are mostly done. Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Bob Menendez is an exception, one of a tiny cohort that remembers that historically it has been Congress that has led on human freedom, support for democracy, and sanctions against weapons proliferators and dictators.
Like the influential Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairs of yesteryear—Henry Cabot Lodge, William Borah, Arthur Vandenberg, J. William Fulbright, Frank Church, and Jesse Helms, among others—Menendez has sought to return the committee to the center of U.S. foreign policy, along the way sticking it to the Biden (and Trump and Obama) White Houses with New Jersey verve that has earned the senator an impressive roster of detractors, both within his own party and without.
On domestic policy issues, Menendez is a standard issue liberal ($10,000 student loan relief on the taxpayer? Why not more? The “Inflation Reduction” Act? More, sir, please! And don’t forget the Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation Act, introduced with Elizabeth Warren, that targeted crisis pregnancy centers. On foreign policy, however, he has been called the “last hawk on the Left.” Or as one former GOP national security staffer put it to me, “I’d be proud if he was a Republican.”
Menendez is Cuban-American, and it shows. He has opposed all efforts, Obama’s and more recently Biden’s, to loosen restrictions on Communist Cuba. In a recent press release on Biden’s changes to U.S. Cuba travel policy, he left no doubt as to his position: