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. anonymous

    Truth Bomb Thrower, do bomb-throwers know what truth is? Does truth need to throw bombs? Is truth a bomb that needs to be thrown?

    April 19, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  2. David

    Some of the Republicans in congress really need to get over themselves. Wow....if the President had just ignored Presidents at the Summit, then those same people would be saying President Obama doesn't know how to carry himself as a leader of the free world. It wouldn't matter what he did or what he does in the future. These whining fake leaders are a disgrace. They actually think people are that dumb that they cannot see through their political plays and calculations. It's silly season with the Republicans this year. I really hope they wake up soon and get onboard with the train of change or they are going to get rolled over like a squashed bug as the rest of the country moves to a prosperous future.

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  3. AdamW

    Kind of like when the Bush's hang out with the Saudi's who think it is legally cool for a 47y year old to marry an 8 year old never mind their other human rights violations and oppressive regime. Or like when Rumsfeld and the American crew were shaking hands and making big business deals with Sadaam Hussein?

    Mike, Truth and others- Obama wants more government control? Bush was in office for 8 years taking away civil liberties and expanding the governments power to do whatever they want. Are you people kidding me? Those 8 years were clouded in secret deals, torture, corrupt politics and lies and you talk about Obama? You are a joke.

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  4. AD

    Let's see how many of Barack Hussein's new friends will come around the next time the United States is attacked by Terrorists. You can bet your a– that Chevez will get a good laugh out of it. All the handshakes and good will in the world won't end the hate and jelosy that America's enemies feel for our Country. If you believe otherwise , you are only fooling yourself or are just a fool !!

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  5. Kat

    Of course the republicans are upset and doing their typical name calling and over reacting. They don't understand what this thing call diplomacy is nor do they understand how to work with the rest of the world using it. It is always the sign of a weak mind to fear what you don't understand. That or they are still being whinny, sore loosers.

    Either way, they are really making themselves look silly.

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  6. TW

    I can agree with people who are saying that Ensign was overreacting to the meeting, but totally disagree with those who think Chavez is anything other than a "typical dictator" whose violations of human rights in Venezuela are well known. That is not an outright lie made up by neocons, that is the cold hard truth.

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  7. Keith A. Buckenmeyer

    What Sen. Ensign and the rest of the the Republican mind set don't seem to get is that all this so called anti-Americanism of the last eight years is not "anti America" it was "ANTI-BUSH/CHENEY POLICIES"!!!

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  8. Rick Pippard

    Many have been criticizing Obama for having smiled when shaking Hugo Chavez's hand as having gone too far. Baloney!

    Hugo Chavez only days ago was ranting and raving about the U.S. and now is all friendly. All Obama did was smile. Chavez swung from hateful rhetoric to wanting to be Obamas friend. Obama did not give away the U.S.'s strength or integrity by smiling, be bought it!

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  9. Peter

    Well why wouldn't two brothers shake hands and joke about, perhaps exchange readings on their socialist ideals....this should be expected!

    April 19, 2009 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  10. Big John

    Thankfully we have a president who is a real leader and is in the process of returning respect to our country. The senator should keep his opinions to himself, he's obviously just trying to put his name in the news with such a comment

    April 19, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  11. dave

    I seem to recall that many republicans, when anyone had the nerve to criticize Mr. Bush, called them "un-American", "traitors", and asked "why do you hate America? Why do you support the terrorists?" So, Sen Ensign – those questions to you.

    April 19, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  12. amwa

    Will the incessant whining of the Republican base ever stop.Do they ever shut their mouths long enough to listen, oh well they make themselves look more stupid every day. They are a depressed bunch, never happy. Thank goodness we now have an intelligent President to clean up the mess, if I was a Republican I would be so ashamed of what the last 8 years did I would keep my mouth shut and listen to someone smarter than I.

    April 19, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  13. suzyku

    The irresponsible ones are the people who are calling Obama irresponsible! This country cannot move forward in this day and age without engaging our enemies somehow. It's apparent that the bush tactics of "ignoring" other countries he and evil cheney didn't approve of, doesn't work, never did, never will! Remember the old saying about keeping your enemies close at hand?! It's not as if President Obama made any concessions or changed any policies because Chavez shook his hand and gave him a book! Stupid thinking, this is why the republicans are lost as a party, this is why main stream media continues to go downhill!

    April 19, 2009 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  14. micron26

    Anti-Bush and anti- GOP does not equal anti-American. It's that simple.

    April 19, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  15. Jay

    I think it would have been funny if Obama had bowed to Chavez...

    April 19, 2009 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  16. dennisg

    Chavez is an idiot but doesn't represent the Venezuelan people. Bush is an idiot and war criminal but does not represent the American people. Obama is on the right course to formalize relations with Venezuela and with Cuba. We may not condone their human rights policies, but it is through diplomacy that our policies and beliefs have impact on other countries. It is through the people and not the dictators that change will happen. If we deplore the actions of some dictators and not all it reflects on our politics. How can we snub Cuba and Venezuela and not China (the largest violators of civil rights. Good job Obama!

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  17. KW, Vail AZ

    Here's another "more of the same, continue what doesn't work" republican.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  18. middlegirl

    Normally I don't view these stories but today I did to just to comment. CNN routinely posts inflammatory statements from obscure Republicans to get your clicks. This website in the spirit of the Drudge school of journalism continually manipulates its readers by drumming up flimsy controversies. CNN puts out the red meat and its readers respond like trained monkeys. Not only do I not click (with today being an exception to comment), I avoid CNN all together because I refuse take their bait.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  19. Mark

    I must agree with the senator. Obama is way too preoccupied apologizing for the US. I wish he would stop it! The US is the best country on the planet and most aspire to be half as wonderful as our great nation.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  20. Kola, Lima Oh.

    I am tired and sick of the Republicans' criticism of President Obama. When will they stop blaming President Obama for trying to distinct himself from the old Century politics that has not improved our image around the world? It is absolutely childish and nonsense. Senator Ensign needs to think deeply and look beyond. We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect a different result. I'm not an advocate of Socialist Government but we should not blame Obama for extending a friendly hand to President Chivaz . We need to create peace with our enemies. The best method to improve US image is through Diplomacy and development. Let all the critics keep quiet and pray for the success of the present administration.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  21. gary

    I don't see Chavez as being anti-american... he was hardcore anti-Bush.. The Bush polichy is isolating countries he didn't like was without a doubt totally ineffective.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  22. Richard L

    Why do Republicans prefer bombing to diplomacy? Why do they trash people trying for PEACE?

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  23. Brad

    The time of the "Grand Ole Party" type diplomacy is over. The isolationist attitude toward adversaries has marginalized the US over the last decade. At a minimum, at least the current administration is showing a level of political maturity not seen in the last 20 years by creating an amiable atmosphere so that grievances may be aired. The world has grown tired of the condescending Anglo-political attitude of America. Put new models on the table, show moderation instead of conceit, utilized dialogue-based diplomacy instead of stalemate statesmanship. Criticism and finger pointing is very easy when you don't shoulder the responsibility of the presidency, nor the military service members who ultimately resolve failed diplomacy. Sen. Ensign has worn neither of those shoes.

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  24. David

    The Republicans can take the gas pipe....

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  25. denver

    It blows my mind to read all the comments made by *apparent* conservative Republicans day after day on these boards. Your party got our country into this mess and now we have to clean up after you. It seems that all you care about is hate, war and money. Grow up. The majority of our country is finished with your misguided single mindedness. I find it difficult to be fair and balanced with ignorant good 'ol boys who blast the current policies but have no suggestions of their own. Apparently you dd at one point, but they failed miserably. We'll try another way...

    April 19, 2009 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
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