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. Al 58

    What Obama did at the America's Summit was a show of wit, elegance and pride. US is a strong democracy able to deal with the staunches adversaries with elegance. At the end of the day, Obama just built bridges to attract the "others" to our positions. Times of the canyon diplomacy are gone, although some people are still longing for the bully, ineffective and much hated America of the past .
    The strength of the US doesn't resides on its weapons or its military mighty power, but on its intelligentsia and the strength of its democratic ideals. Wait and see how this President will be able to reshape History. He is already doing it, only some people don't want (can't stand) to see it.

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  2. Dan in Portland

    Yes so we should ignore him, isolate him and put pressure on him to conform to our way of thinking.....that has worked so well for us in the past. This is my biggest complaints with regards to republicans, they only want to stick to the same old plan that has proven to not work. Maybe if we engage these nations in talks based on respect and not fear we will have more success, it cant hurt to try, the old ways have proven they do not work.

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  3. R Wolf

    Oh my, didn't the last eight years teach you old republican jerks anything?
    How has turning our backs on every country we disagree with helped us?
    Your party's hate mongering has to stop. The majority of the Country is
    thrilled with the job President Obama is doing so just shut up already and stop grandstanding while you're trying to make a name for yourself. Because, really, I don't even remember who you are and I just read the article!!!!!

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  4. New Day

    dustbunny – by "U.K." do you mean the University of Kentucky? Because the huge crowds of cheering people Obama saw in England would seem to disprove your theory.

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  5. Hannah Stevens

    With bushes policy of isolationism and not talking to other countries, of calling some countries axis of evil had a very distinct purpose; to stir up fear and cause those countries to gear up on bombs and nukes. So then we can in turn do the same and the defense companies and bomb makers come out big time but it puts our nation at risk in many ways. We even sell the bombs to these countries and make billions of dollars for the defense companies. With Obama talking to them reduces the need for them to buy more guns and bombs and may lead to peace for all down the road. I hail President Obama. He is doing the right thing.

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  6. L. Song

    It is NEVER irresponsible for a head of state to meet other heads of state – ESPECIALLY when there is conflict or a difference of opinion. It is called diplomacy and it is how you keep the world at PEACE. Yes, Bush and team tried to kill that concept – and look at the mess the world is in now. FAILING to practice diplomacy is what is irresponsible.

    April 19, 2009 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  7. mike

    Seems Obama and Chavez are on the same page.

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  8. Gwendy

    Based on news reports, Venezuela is not anti-American but was anti-Bush. Thank God we now have a President who uses his brain before opening his mouth and who is trying to take the first steps toward dialogs with the hope of establishing better relationships worldwide. Sheesh, as far as the Republican Party is concerned Obama can't seem to do anything right, yet people still look to him as doing a great job. Give it a rest.

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  9. AJ in Fla

    Una vez mas, Dios los cria y ellos se juntan...!!!!!

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  10. kiran, PA

    What is "irresponsible" is the false war on Iraq and the Katrina victims left behind. Thanks America for voting for Bush 2 terms , the worst Prez in US history.

    I mean what is Obama supposed to do to Chavez, snub him in front of the whole world, Chavez ran to meet Obama, not the other way around.

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  11. Westerner

    I'm getting really, really tired of these Republican temper tantrums. They are behaving like 2-year-olds who don't get their way.

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  12. Moody

    Chavez was anti Bush not anti American. And for you dumb folks who keep saying socialist.... don't accept social security or medicare when you are elderly.

    April 19, 2009 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  13. AndyB

    He's anti American because of hate and attitudes like yours Mr. Ensign. Yours and the likes of Bush that basically turned the world against us. Go crawl back in your hole Ensign and shut up.

    April 19, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  14. kiran, PA

    I guess "true bomb thrower" pals around with bill ayers.

    April 19, 2009 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  15. jojo mcgee

    Castro gets elected every year. He has killed most of the people who dared vote against him. Hugo has laid the groundwork for that in Venezuela. Obama is as humourless and feckless as Castro. But the American people will resist any move by Obama and Napolitano to rule by threats of violence, which they appear to be making now.

    April 19, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  16. Justin

    If Obama does it, it's bad. That's the GOP mantra nowadays.

    Obama could find the cure for cancer, capture bin laden, clear the national debt, balance the budget and turn the economy around overnight and most of the GOP would still find something to complain about.

    April 19, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  17. mark

    the republicans are haters. they hate hispanics, blacks, chineses and arabs. i want people to get rid of them in 2010.

    April 19, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  18. ruth

    John Ensign have you ever heard the old saying: keep your friends close and your enemies CLOSER? Wake up idiot– you have to talk to your enemies otherwise you never know what they are doing or thinking.

    April 19, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  19. dichiara

    John Ensign is a dinosaur. His cold war thinking is dead. He is a relic of the past; the last kid picked on the team in high school he is now venting his anger on America and the change the people voted for.

    April 19, 2009 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  20. Jman

    It is unbelievable to me that an American President would entertain a dictator who is literally raping and pillaging his own country, taking all privatized captialism out of the hands of his people and putting it under the control of the government. I think any one who doesn't thinks he is a dicatator with communism running through his veins should get his head checked. This guy is horrible, despicable, and not voted in by his country. He forced himself into office with rigging the elections and controlling the populace with an iron fist. Any opposition to him is met with long jail terms and death threats by his goons.

    Way to go Obama, great job. Maybe you should keep your mind on the country and not go around makiing friends with communistic dictators....stay focused buddy. Half of the country didn't vote for you!

    April 19, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  21. Gordon Shumway

    Irresponsibility seem to be Obayou's trademark. I could think of a few more mature and comfortable traits that would be more welcome.

    April 19, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  22. MK

    April 19th, 2009 11:29 am ET

    Yes Mike, Chavez IS a brutal dictator and human rights violator. Just ask those who oppose him. He has shut down media outlets that disagree with him, and imprisoned those who disagree with him. He has taken over the government and wants the government to own everything. He is an oppressor. YOU need to open your eyes.

    WOW, did Carl Rove work on the Chavez campaign staff too?

    April 19, 2009 12:06 pm at 12:06 pm |
  23. John in Iowa

    hey jackie,

    you talking about Venezuela or parts of the US? both are most likely true.

    April 19, 2009 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  24. Audrey

    President Obama is wise to re-engage leaders from all over the world in communication and relationship with the United States. Let's face it, the US is not the super-power it used to be, and the whole world knows it! This president has the awful task of trying to lead a crippling, hobbling country back to its rightful place on the world stage. If anyone can do it, President O can.

    April 19, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  25. Thomas L. Davidson

    The Republicans have to keep saying no and attacking President Obama , they are selfish and stupid, but not dumb. They know 2010 is comming and the more successful the President is the more likely they will lose many many seats in Congress and the Senate. The President is whipping their buts and they know it. Hannity ,Limbaugh and others just like them, are reduced to simply complaining about any and everything he says and does. They have know choice but to try and keep the country divided,nothing to offer that will help the country. I actually heard Rush insult over 69,million americans because they voted for Mr. Obama, tell me how helpful is that to anything but his getting national attention. They are just SAD!

    April 19, 2009 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
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