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. Truth Bomb Thrower

    Obama is envious of Chavez. Chavez is a tyrant who has oppressed the Venezuelan people with his socialist, totalitarian regine. Obama would love to do the same here. Birds of a feather flock together.

    April 19, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  2. Hankers

    he has sent a fear throughout the intelligence community that they could be prosecuted in the future," Ensign said.
    Good! No one should operate beyond the law. Liberty may come at a cost, but it is worth the price.

    April 19, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  3. Mike

    Wow, Chavez hates Bush so now he's a brutal dictator and human rights violator? Guess that makes most of America in the same boat. Chavez has been given a bad rap because he runs a Socialist government. Not all Socialist governments are bad for their people, only when they have a bad leader. Chavez is not a bad leader. It's good to finally have a President who understands that.

    April 19, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  4. ib

    I think Obama is reaching out to someone he thinks like. Obama wants more goverment controll; wants goverment to take over private companies. He proved that with the ouster of GM's CEO. I don't think GM's managment is that good but Obama should not have been able to put him out.

    April 19, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  5. Ryan

    They just don't get it, you don't solve a problem by ignoring it.

    April 19, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. sandy

    Oh for God's sake. That is half what's wrong with country. We have for years refused to sit down and talk with our enemies and look where it's gotten us. I for one have no problem with him shaking this man's hand or for his smiling. It's what they discuss that I care about. If he had snubbed all the people that we have something against, then he would have been vilified for that. The Republicans need to shut up and let our President do his job. A little assistance from them might also help to bring this country back to where it was BEFORE the Republicans ruined us. Keep up the good work Mr. President.

    April 19, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  7. Dave in Dayton

    I'm glad that we finally have a President that the leaders of the rest of the world feel they respect...unlike the last one. Barack Obama is slowly restoring some dignity and respect toward the US, instead of Bush's bully attitude. Shaking hands with another head is hardly anything more than that...a handshake.

    Ensign's comments are part of that "we're better than you, so we can do and say whatever we want" attitude of the past. No wonder the Republicans are so out of touch.

    April 19, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  8. Sam

    Republicans have to stop calling Chavez a dictator. He was democratically elected, is still democratically elected, and thus far has not made himself unable to be democratically defeated. Further, every observer has reported his elections as free and fair.

    He may be a hateful, anti-American, and generally bad guy, but every time Republicans call him a dictator, it diminishes the strength of the world for the real dictators in the world. Republicans need to luck up the definition of dictator again. I have no qualms with them hating the guy, heck, I think Chavez is a madman and dangerous, but he simjply is not a dictator.

    April 19, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  9. Zaber

    Maybe next The One can go snuggle up with Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ?

    April 19, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  10. George

    Talking is never irresponsible. Had Bush talked and not acted 4200 of our finest would still be alive. A man will talk. A coward will sent other to die because they are too arrogant to talk.

    April 19, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  11. Nick

    It is better than Bush saying "mission accomplised" and "bring it on". That was totally reckless.

    April 19, 2009 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  12. L'broke


    God forbids Obama can be all jokey and "HA HA HA!" to someone else, even if that someone hates America. Did it ever occur to them that maybe Obama's trying to paint the U.S. as positive so Chavez and go "Hey, they're not so bad after all."

    April 19, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  13. Lisa

    Ensign is wrong: following his advice would result in more of the same isolationist, arrogant, failed, destructive policies of the past 8 years. I would like him to name one country or region of the world that we are safer in now as a result of Bush's disastrous foreign polices. It's time for a change.

    April 19, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  14. Me

    Let me guess, this Ensign is a republican isn't it? Poor him then...He doesn't make no sense on what he is saying.

    April 19, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  15. TBA

    Republican forget the Chinese saying, "Keep your friends close, but keep you enemy closer"

    April 19, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  16. Cleanupthatrash

    Obama knows that the US needs its daily regimen of oil, and with strained middle eastern relations always in the offing, we now have to lick tha ano of Chavez to try to get Venezuelan oil. So ass kissing is a must for Obama and Chavez.

    April 19, 2009 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  17. Danny in Chicago

    Tuth Bomb Thrower – really? Truth? Bomb Thrower? uh huh....bomb throwing may be accurate, but truth – um....no.

    April 19, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  18. Michael

    So, Mr. Hig and Mighty Senator, where were your cries of indignation when Dubya did pretty much the same things a few years ago? And where are your cries on behalf of the politically repressed when we do business with China like everything's hunky dorry?.......not to mention when Nixon reached out to them and Reagan reached out to Gorby.

    These guys and their ilk are a pathetic lot....they pale in comparison to a real leader like our President.

    April 19, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  19. mike

    these right wingers better grow up, the party is over stop talking trash

    April 19, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  20. ILoveTofu

    Repubs created this antagonistic attitude and when Barack Obama is trying to fix it they are complaining.

    April 19, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  21. The Baker

    Wait, potentially opening diplomatic relations is irresponsible. Can the GOP get a clue?

    April 19, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  22. Watching Idiocracy

    Thank God! We now have a President who understands the word diplomacy. Barack Obama is a great man, and he will be one of the best presidents we have ever had in this great nation. The Publicans are doing their best to criticize every successful move he makes. They mocked him for inexperience, but now we see that his wisdom trumps all of their combined experience. Get used to it Publicans, we made a very good choice in electing Barack Obama. He is not a socialist. He is not a tax-and-spend liberal. He is not a friend of terrorists. He is a hero. He is a statesman. He knows what he's doing, and he's going to succeed, not fail. So far, all I've heard from the Publicans is a desire to secede.

    April 19, 2009 11:13 am at 11:13 am |
  23. lynn in NM

    The good senator forgot that there are more important things than human rights. Hillary said so.

    April 19, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  24. Liberal4Obama

    Did the republican senator expected that President Obama would not run into President Chavez? Then if he hadn't been seen with him he would probably have said he was not "strong enough" to standup to Chavez. Republicans need to stop blaming the President for their failures. The FACT is the US and Venezuela had both cut diplomatic ties during the Bush Administration, a spat that ended with each country kicking out their respective Ambassadors. And after Mr. Obamas trip an his "charm offensive", yes, every single leader at the conferece still wanted their picture taken with President Obama, diplomatic ties are about to be once again restored with Ambassadors back in both countries... I would like to ask republicans if we don't talk to our enemies about making the world a safer place who are we supposed to talk to or be diplomatic to?... or is it the alternative to alienate them further and accomplish nothing or even worst for them to acquire and test nuclear weapons like the North Koreans did during the 8 "glorious years" or George W Bush?

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  25. John

    Your comments are rather odd, Senator Ensign, inasmuch as relations between Obama and Chavez appear to be quite positive, unlike your Great Leader Bush who alienated the rest of the world and his own countrymen and women, just to prove he could. And he did with a nengeance while you blindly supported him to the detriment of the United States, let alone the world.

    Goodbye Republican Party. You've not been grand for sometime...... and Ensign, even less so.

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12