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. jt

    This jerk Geroge W Bush, one of the worst President in histrory, Chavez described his as Devil, at least Chavez is respecting Obama and it's a Good sign, GOPs are so much brainwashed by Bush, they just dont' understand the meaning of diplomacy, cowboy politics is out of date, in 21st century it just doesn't work...keep up obama

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  2. Carl in Las Vegas

    Mr. Ensign...Evolve already..

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  3. InlandEmperor

    What an appropriate name.....Ensign. Hey Rook, please allow the Admirals to do their job. Your commentary could be categorized as making this country less safe. Try to remember that it was during your "boys" terms in office that our country was attacked. Please let the grownups currently in place in the Executive Branch do the job America has asked them to do without your partisan sniveling. Try to remember you are an American first.

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  4. Gemini

    How do these comments get past the moderators? Its just so sick that people sit behind their computers and spew out this random hatred that twists reality into their personal views.

    "Obama would love to be a tyrant and oppress America with his socialist and totalitarian regime?"

    How can you be so clueless?

    April 19, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  5. Alex

    I just simply have to ask the crackpots that are sure to post here, is it so bad to be a country that is liked as well as respected and not think we are such a superior nation to the rest of the world,. I am so proud of the American people and their voting intellegence that millions of Americans saw fit to change a terrible direction of this nation that we were on the last 8 years. It's all good Mr. President, keep being the the Chief Executive.............I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED!!!!

    April 19, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  6. Rollie

    Hey Sen. Ensign, when it was said that CHANGE was coming to Washington, this is what was meant!! The result of this interaction is that tensions are beginning to ease. And WAKE UP! The United States compromised its prestige when George Bush ran the country nearly into the ground. Do you REALLY think the rest of the world looks at the US as a country of prestige and diginty??!!! Honestly?? What President Obama is doing is REPAIRING our image. IDIOT!

    April 19, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  7. William

    I guess we should keep doing what the last president did. Where did it get us? We seen to hate Chavez but we still buy his oil and accept his free heating oil he give us. We can't have it both ways. If we stop buying oil from his country it would mean less income for Chavez and less gas for us. We are not willing to stop the oil from coming in.

    April 19, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  8. Real Truth Bomb Defuser

    Right. Just wait until he clamps downand takes away civil liberities – held indefinitely without a trial, unwarranted wire taps, etc. Oh, wait, that was Bushie.

    What SOCIAL oppression has Obama instigated since taking office. What taxes has he raised, what liberites has he taken away from you – your guns? Your right to choose? You health care program?

    Get real – he is trying to jumpstart a dead economy – what ANY president would do if they were there.

    April 19, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  9. pete

    The Senator of Nevada is a little ignorant, Chavez is not a Dictator...Chavez is an elected President. Please Senator don't embarrass the American People with your statements.
    Chavez could be in our pocket if we play smart....but attacking him is not the best way. we lost Cuba because IKE ignored Fidel castro when he came to the USA.
    Besides, USA can do a lot of bussiness with Venezuela.....We need to think smart, Senator......eventually that will benefit all of us.
    By the way, we are doing bussiness with China, right? ....I rest my case.....

    April 19, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  10. Allie

    The reason Chavez is so anti-American is because we have consistently treated his country, and his region as a whole, as a place where can exercise as much control as we want while ignoring the problems this has caused at our own discretion. President Obama is staying true to his promise of 'change' by treating Hugo Chavez, the ELECTED leader of Venezuela as his political equal, instead of acting like a king that should be bowed down to. Until Chavez commits electoral fraud or the people of Venezuela stop supporting him, he should be treated with respect. This is not to say Chavez is a great defender of democracy, but just because he is different than us does not mean he does not deserve a public demonstration of friendliness and respect.

    April 19, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  11. Jim Playford

    I'm a life long Republican & military retired veteran (from Nevada, by the way)...this article is EMBARASSING! While I agree w/Ensign's comments on release of CIA memos, his comments about Obama not being seen gripping/grinning with Chavez epitomizes the Republican party's "No We Can't" mantra that even life long Republicans are growning weary of.

    April 19, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  12. Arlene, Roselle, Illinois

    Listen up Republicans thats why you lost the last election.

    April 19, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  13. Ronnie

    Present Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do during the campaign; talk to other leaders. The U.S. cannot continue to stand high and mighty and look down at the rest of the World. I LOVE my country and am looking forward to turning a page, a day where we can discuss our differences with civility. A smile in a photograph doesn't tell the whole story, we have not lost ground in the World because our President shook someone's hand, even if that someone is Chavez. Differences are not solved by flexing by muscle flexing. We're the most powerful nation in the world, our greatest problem is that we know it.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  14. sam

    Consider the source the anti-Obama material. CNN is owned by a Republican. Since January, the site fits the class of non-supportive of the President and anti-American. Go read BBC!

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  15. jane

    Obama, the gentleman, the statesman, is a true humanitarian who does not believe in the bully tactics of the past 8 years. Ensign is wrong. We must reach out to everyone, including our own enemies. This is just right wing fear tactics that are meant to scare people. Baloney.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  16. Lynn

    Once again John Kings's socalled State of the Union continues to be the gift to the Republicans which keeps on giving. CNN joins the rest of the cable news industry whose sole purpose is to drum up contoversy rather than report the news.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  17. Fan of Common Sense

    Well what do ya' know. The marxist tyrant has a new buddy........and his name is Hugo. 🙂

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  18. 30m-Democrat-voted Clinton then McCain

    I can't believe how friendly Obama was to Chavez. Doesn't he remember Chavez said America will go down, God willing? At least Obama is living up to one of his early campaign promises to meet personally with our enemies. How naive.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  19. Eric

    Or, TBT, perhaps Obama is a world leader who is responsible for pursuing American interests and for building American stature. While Chavez is a wanker, he remains an elected world leader who sits on substantial oil deposits. Chavez also maintains diplomatic relationships with countries that pose a substantial security risk to the United States. International politics often takes place through back channels and if the current administration is to protect our security, Obama must maintain open diplomatic channels, even if some of them are less than ideal. Far better to have open lines for dialogue than clogged ones. That's why the little red phone was installed on the president's desk during the Cold War.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  20. John

    Anyone take a hard look at Ensign's "career choice" lately?

    Maybe Obama should have a talk with him, and remind him what Justice and Freedon are really all about, unlike George Bush, whom the American people still demand be prosecuted for War Crimes.

    John Ensign? For incompetence in the line of duty.

    April 19, 2009 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  21. Nola

    Someone forgot to teach Senator Ensign -If you cannot say something good about/regarding a person say NOTHING. But what else would one expect from the Republicans.

    April 19, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  22. Robert of Overgaard

    Same old, same old from the GOP. This is the same GOP that looked into Putin's eyes and saw a friend and good intentions. Then Putin invades another country and kills 5000 people. Guess Bush wasn't a good judge of character was he Ensign?

    April 19, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  23. MrPragmatic

    The best way to defeat an enemy is to make him a friend.
    - Abraham Lincoln

    April 19, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  24. Chicagoway

    Another repub saying that obama should not be talking to various world leaders...no surprise there. Not sure why repubs want to be isolated from the rest of the world. Obama is repairing relationships destroyed by bush and he is trying to establish new relationships. Why that is seen as a bad thing by critics is beyond my comprehension

    April 19, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  25. Marge

    Oh boy the republicans got their manhood up now don't them. They are whining and slaming and sluring and jumping up and down trying to smear the president aren't they.

    DON'T THEY KNOW THEY LOST THE LAST TWO ELECTIONS because of their actions and DO NOTHINGNESS. Gee hope they never learn. Just think after 2010 we will be rid of this party of No....peopled by republicans forever.

    April 19, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
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