April 19th, 2009
03:53 PM ET
11 years ago

Senator says Obama's appearance with Chavez 'irresponsible'

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/WORLD/americas/04/18/U.S.venezuela.relations/art.chavez_obama.jpg caption=" Obama's appearance with Chavez has drawn some heat."]

(CNN) - Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, told CNN Sunday it was "irresponsible" for President Obama to have been seen "laughing and joking" with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas on Friday.

"This is a person who is one of the most anti-American leaders in the entire world," Ensign told CNN's John King on State of The Union. "He is a brutal dictator and human rights violations are very, very prevalent in Venezuela. And you have to be careful."

"When you're talking about the prestige of the United States and the presidency of the United States, you have to be careful who you're seen joking around with," he also said.

Chavez - whose anti-U.S. rhetoric has included calling former President George W. Bush the devil - announced Saturday he is considering naming an ambassador to the United States, signaling a potential shift in the tense relations between the two nations.

Speaking to reporters Sunday in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Obama brushed aside criticism of the appearance, saying, "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."

"Even with the imaginative crowd, I think that you would be hard pressed to paint a scenario where US interests would be damaged as a consequence of us having a more constructive relationship with Venezuela," he said.

Also appearing on CNN, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, downplayed the moment between Obama and the Venezuelan leader, saying, "all the president did was shake his hand like George Bush [did]."

"What the president is doing here at the summit of the Americas: he is reaching out to all of these countries like he did at the G20 [Summit], I think very effectively," Klobuchar also said.

In the interview with CNN, Ensign was also sharply critical of the Obama administration for releasing previously classified CIA memos outlining Bush-era interrogation techniques.

"What the president has done is he has sent a fear throughout the intelligence community that they could be prosecuted in the future," Ensign said. "And that is exactly the kind of fear that paralyzed the intelligence community prior to September 11. I think America is less safe because of the release of these memos," he said.

The memos, written by then-lawyers for the CIA and Justice Department officials, said interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation and slapping did not violate laws against torture when there was no intent to cause severe pain.

Filed under: Extra • President Obama • State of the Union
soundoff (300 Responses)
  1. Robert

    These comments sound like they were made by Bush and the Republicans and THAT is what screwed up this country and lead to the rest of the world hating us. IF anyone should be called socialists and haters it is the Republican party. For God's sake just look back the last 8 years and THINK.

    independent and thank full for Obama.......At the end of his term we will be back on track and then what will the Republicans cry about, OH YEA they could not buy a forth house in Manhattan....I will cry for them.

    April 19, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  2. Gus in NJ

    Response to the Pragmatist post (11.36 AM): You are definitively not know what you are talking about. Chavez was not "elected and re-elected four times". He has played and fooled around with the Venezuelan constitution many times, he even changed and now he wanted to changed again, is making threats to "down to earth" region's presidents like Alvaro Uribe from Colombia.

    He is also a marxist-left terrorist FARC guerrilla backer (big time with money, arms and free advertisement every time he can), talks non-sense for hours in national broadcast, making threats to media, church and private ownership, and you say he is not "dictator-type".

    My God, just tune TV from Venezuela, read newspapers, get your facts from other "normal people" and you will just shock what he is doing to the people he says represents in a big lie called "Revolucion Bolivariana". If Simon Bolivar, a true hero and patriot not only from Venezuela but the whole Latin America 19th. Century history, was alive, he will send Chavez to exile in no time.

    Did you know that Chavez even mandated to change the direction a horse was facing (originally to the right) in the national flag seal, and make it face to the left???. You are really an ignorant. But if you really know the facts, and even with that blowing in your face, you choose to ignore it, then you are a lost case, and a hypocrite.

    By the way, I am not from Venezuela, but a Latin American origin from Argentina, and a proud US citizen, if you are wondering anyways.

    You don't know what is freedom and liberty until you lose it.

    April 19, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  3. AmFem

    What's ridiculous is the fact the the Repuglicans have nothing. They can't come up with anything solid to complain about regarding our new President. Gotta hand it to them, though. They do keep trying.

    It's called diplomacy, dumb neocons. Try it.

    April 19, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  4. Marc-Alexandre Prudhomme

    I completely disagree with his comments due to the fallacy of his arguments. First of all, Chavez was elected democraticcaly, more so than George W. Bush was in 2001 (did not have the majority of the votes and there were inconsistencies in FLorida). Therefore, Bush was closer to being a dictactor than Chavez has ever been. Second of all, I don't understand how he can make such a big deal of the human rights violation in Venezuela (I am not denying that there have been) when the next issue discussed by the senator has to do with the torture used during interogations by American intelligence. Third of all, how can a person who has provided residents of the Bronk with gas and electricity at a really low price for years and who has, among other things, offered his help to the Americans after Hurrican Katrina created a disaster can be considered anit-American? Anti-Bush, he is, not anti-American. Lastly, I am outraged by the Democrat Senator's labeling of Hugo Chavez as an enemy. I thought that this was completely out of line as Venezuela represents one of the largest supplier in gas of the USA.
    Good job Obama on meeting with him and opening up discussions with the representatives of other human beings in the world, namely from Cuba and Iran.

    April 19, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  5. Michael

    The republican party is irrelevant.

    April 19, 2009 12:09 pm at 12:09 pm |
  6. Tim

    God forbid Obama try to restore diplomatic relations with other countries. What we should really try to do is make more enemies.

    April 19, 2009 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  7. Michigander

    Mark April 19th, 2009 11:33 am ET

    Obama is a weakling who appears to still be running for high school president.

    And you base that on what? That he hasn't invaded a country yet? That he actually enjoys meeting leaders and getting to know them? That he might be a force for PEACE in this mixed-up world than a force for divisiveness and hatred? That he wants to fix this broken country? If that's his problem, I'm with him all the way!

    April 19, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  8. al+

    President Obama is taking the repubs to school on how we should treat our supposed enemy's.

    April 19, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  9. David in Houston

    Chavez was only 'anti-American' when we had an 'anti-everyone but us' president. Now that we have true leadership things are changing. Come on, folks...let's use some logic here.

    April 19, 2009 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  10. art@sjlaw.com

    keep your friends close and your enemies closer!

    April 19, 2009 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  11. CMG

    After the last eight years, every Republican should be an expert in defining the word "irresponsible." Unfortunately, it appears that we still have a select few who seemingly don't get it. No wonder states such as Nevada are struggling.

    April 19, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  12. trying to be reasonable in West Virginia

    I think Chavez is a jerk, and a dangerous one, at least from time to time. But I think Rush Limbaugh is a jerk as well, although he, from time to time, constitutes a far DIFFERENT kind of danger than Chavez.

    Should Obama NOT engage with Chavez because we have fundamental disagreements with him? How about Putin or Medvedev? How about the Chinese? How about the Iranians? Some of you people use differences with and distaste for certain foreign regimes and leaders as an excuse for not engaging with them–stupid and counterproductive OR you use the fact of Obama's interactions with them as proof of his desire to EMULATE them–ridiculous.

    April 19, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  13. Ed

    The fascinating thing is that Obama telegraphed what he was going to do when he was campaigning. And yet, the country voted him in, in resounding fashion. Doesn't that sound an alarm to these aimless, self-blinded, right-wing fools?

    It was hilarious to watch these imbeciles perform their little tea party demonstrations. Don't they realize that they are protesting in favor of the tiny percentage of Americans that control most of the wealth? Chances are most of those tea baggers get a tax break with Obama.

    There are none so blind as those who will not see.

    April 19, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  14. Terry from GA

    Bush tried, for 8 years, to tell other countries what to do and a reporter threw 2 shoes at him at a press conference in Iraq. Pres. Obama is trying a different approach and he received a book from Chavez.. Everyone can see a huge difference in less than 100 days in the way other countries see the Unites States. The GOP aka "The Party of No" has nothing positive to add, so all they do is complain.

    April 19, 2009 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  15. Oh My!

    To even think that Socialism is ok. To think Chavez is a good leader is insane. He kills when is wants too he steals when he wants to. Sounds like Sadan Hussain to me. But let's smile and let's love him because we want friends or what? This has got nothng to do with Left or Right, it has to so with wisdom and understanding, which Obama is lacking alot of both.

    April 19, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  16. Larry from RI

    And these guys are trying to shed "The Party of No" branding they have created for themselves?

    Do these guys ever actually think before they engage their mouths?
    If so, what could they possibly be thinking to come up with such self destructive partisan rhetoric?

    April 19, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  17. scott morley

    The Republicans not only embraced, but actually helped create some of the most brutal Fascist dictatorships this hemisphere in the last century. Chavez is the best thing that ever happened to South America. He is providing for the poor not just in his country but right here in the US. He was giving free heating oil to Americans during the Bush administration.

    April 19, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  18. jojo mcgee

    suzyku – Obama is not trying to understand Chavez. He understands him well. The actual problem that most non-Obamaist have is that Obama is now in a position to follow through with the acts of criminality that Chavez and Castro are currently carrying out. And people like suzyku don't have a clue.

    April 19, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  19. Melissa

    The Republicans don't like anything Obama does so this isn't a surprise. Suffice to say its wrong. Better diplomacy than childishly trying to control them like other Presidents.

    April 19, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  20. TC

    Sen. John Ensign doesn't understand that Chavez's hatred was directed at Bush and his administration not the American people. Obama is above Ensign's myopic world vision.

    April 19, 2009 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  21. gsmraleigh

    it's a new world and the old republican guard is out of touch with it.

    April 19, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  22. Sarty

    Pathetic narrow minded gops.

    April 19, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  23. FST, St. Louis.

    I think that it is just too painful for most Republicans to accept that the first black American President has been able to show all of us of the possibility of how many difficult issues the President and his administration have been able and willing to tackle in a short time when they put the country and people first instead of themselves. Times and the world have changed but the Republicans have not! Too bad!

    April 19, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. Keith

    Its funny, the only way the GOP to excite their base is through FEAR. They are trying to turn these ANTI-BUSH leader into ANTI-AMERICAN leaders. That's the only way to move their base.....SAD VERY SAD

    April 19, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  25. dan

    We should rename the French Fries in the cafeteria Freedom Fries. That's diplomacy!

    Republicans need to take a long long long cold shower.

    April 19, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
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