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. Dee

    Obama is a communist I am sure he and Chavez are laughing at the idiots that voted for them and thought they were getting change. Change means the government or should I say Obama taking over every part of your life. Obama is just as bad as all the dictators in world, but he is just more evil..

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  2. Jon F

    Prestige of the United States? How old is this guy 90? We dont have any prestige. We havent since about 1975. We get used by half the countries for our money. The other half use us as a bargaining chip. Im no Obama supporter but I think we need to try something different for a change. This country has been run by old white guys (Im an old white guy so I can say that) for long enough and we see where that has got us.

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  3. icfantv

    Oh yes, I suppose the Bush strategy of shunning anyone we happen to disagree with is a better strategy. That strategy resulted in 50+ years of meaningless embargos on Cuba and North Korea.

    Sometimes it take a bigger man to take that first step towards reconciliation. I believe that by Obama taking the first step and if the leader(s) of the other country(ies) then balk, he can sit back and say "well, at least I tried."

    So, frankly, until the old school GOP has anything more to offer than more of the same old crap that hasn't worked before and won't work now I think they should just shut up and let our elected president do what this country elected him to do.

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  4. Ron

    Such a shame we have those that continually spew out hate but in years past wanted all of us to honor "our president" who did nothing but lie and deceive. It's good we have someone that does not make our country look like we are bunch of idiots.

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  5. Jeffro B

    "The best way to defeat your enemy is to make him your friend " – Abraham Lincoln

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  6. videodrome

    Tuth Bomb Thrower – really? Truth? Bomb Thrower? uh huh….bomb throwing may be accurate, but truth – um….no.
    I think "Bull Bomb Thrower" would be more appropriate.

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  7. Eleanor

    Its rather refreshing to see a president with a *peaceful attitude*
    thats exactly why the conservatives are in the mire where they are
    there is nothing wrong with having an attitude of*lets talk not fight* and reaching out a hand in friendship but yet being intelligent enough to know when to step back and take a forceful hand like Pres Obama
    Its been sadly lacking in conservative administrations!!!
    I just dont get them -they are suppose to be into all this religious foundation and yet they are the first to talk war and revenge and holding grudges
    In my bible it speaks of *forgiveness* and *Revenge is mine sayeth the lord*

    April 19, 2009 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  8. Penn Voter

    Chavez has no desire to make his government like our democracy. Rather his goal is to tear down America, making his regain secure for the future.

    Obama, be careful if keep hanging out with people like Chavez and people will start saying you are friends.

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  9. Mark

    Yeah! We can kiss the rumps of Communist China, but God forbid, Obama shoud want to open a dialouge with Chavez!
    This is more 2010 election politics coming from the Repub. Party.
    I'm so sick of their negative crap, I could scream!

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  10. Russ

    Typical Republican reaching for straws...give me a break

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

    Sam, Chavez is a dictator. He has virtually absolute power, elected or not. And he has goon squads that suppress opposition votes. Not sure I'd call that a sterling example of an election. I'll agree with you partly though, it's becoming harder to take Chavez seriously with the opposition movement growing in strength. I seriously doubt he'll be around for too many more years unless he feels he can get away with some brutal crackdowns and Obama or the UN won't stop him. Which, I think we can all agree what the response would be...

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  12. Anonymous

    for GOD'S sake these republicans make me sick! president obama is acting like a strong leader of the strongest nation in the world for a change. bush made us look like fools when he started a war with iraq instead of going after the evils that were responsiable for 911.
    the republican party is fading away and barack obama is making our nation once more a better place to live and a nation for others to look up to.
    i can't stand to even watch some of these old republican cronies on FOX news. all of them need to be replaced an a new generation take over.

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  13. Josh

    Hey Lisa, I can name one country that we are safer in, The U.S.A... But you don't care about that, you are too worried about what the socialist dictators of the world think of us.

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  14. kd

    More Republican nonsense.

    No, what's irresponsible is invading and bombing a country first, asking questions later. Obama is doing it RIGHT – through peaceful and welcoming talks. You can't solve problems with guns, Republicans. When will you ever figure that out?!?

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

    These Republican/Conservatives are a sad lot...they just don't get it, even after years of their failed policies.

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  16. To Truth Bomb Traitor

    I think people are embracing a more socialistic society over the previous redneck administration. Hell, anything but the previous redneck aministration. You should dubbed (no pun intended) the "Ignorant 26" for your willingness to drink HIS Kool-Aid for eight years (and then some).

    Why are you so angry? Same reason most cops are cops and most RA's are RA's in college. Am I saying ALL RA's and cops are bad? No, I'm saying that most of them are were the people who got beat up on the playground and now want their share of the power. The bad ones screw it up for the good ones. And for the RA's and cops listening, you know who you are.

    "Obama would love to do the same here. Birds of a feather flock together." Guess what? Not gonna' happen'. Wouldn't be prudent. You got voted out. You don't like how it is....join a "right-wing extremist" group.

    Your little group is being watched....and don't be surpsied when the Barrett 50 caliber of the real and legitimate US Army mows you down.

    April 19, 2009 11:25 am at 11:25 am |
  17. marcus

    it is SO funny to hear republican legislators calling obama irresponsible for ANYTHING!! these are the people who took the entire world's goodwill toward us after 9/11, and flushed it down the toilet. these are the same people who ran up $13 trillion in debt, eliminated our nation's budget surplus, and think they have ANY credibility when it comes to fiscal or international diplomacy matters! you people need to shut up so all the damage you've caused can be repaired, if that's even possible.

    April 19, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  18. DB

    Some of the rightwing posts are completely absurd. President Obama is a very intelligent and very savvy man. He understands how to work a room and you don't go before the world cameras acting like a jerk. You extend a hand in mutual respect for the world to see that you are willing to take a step toward resolving differences and making the world a better place. Does the President like Chavez, who cares? Does he trust him? Probably not ("keep your enemies close...."). Does he want to show the world that we are turning a page and want to work with the world instead of swaggering everywhere we go acting like we are the only one with the answers? NO! Great job Mr. President. I'm so proud to have voted for you and can't wait to vote for you again. It's a great time to be a Democrat.

    April 19, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  19. Cleanupthatrash

    The only motive that Obama has in kissing up to Chavez is O-I-L!!! The US will do anything to get it...even try to be friendzies with our oil producing country to the south...Venezuela...Bush only was interested in middleastern oil with his Texas mind...or lack of a mind at all is better. The only reason for his war with Iraq it that papa Bush wanted him to restart what he did not finish. So Bush is out...Obama being more of a thinking man with a mind, knows that we need oil and he will kiss up to any country that has a surplus of it.

    April 19, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  20. Mark in Omaha

    I applaude Obama, the world is getting smaller, and we need to improve our relationships world wide. Ensign and his GOP cronies are the ones that ruined Americas credibility. Time to mend fences, even with traditional adversaries.

    April 19, 2009 11:26 am at 11:26 am |
  21. Get real people!

    Hey Sam....anyone that suppresses free speech is a dictator, period. And I think you can find plenty of people that will say the Venezuela "elections" were far from fair.

    The only way you change the way Chavez thinks and behaves is to stop buying his oil. That will fix his little red wagon in a real hurry.

    Hankers...we need to start thinking outside the box and gathering intelligence any way we can. Like everyone keeps saying (including the Defense Secretary), the 20th century battlefield and enemy has changed and we need to adapt to that change or we are done.

    April 19, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  22. Allie

    It sort of feels like to me the Republicans all got together and decided which one of them was going to make the really stupid comment criticizing Obama today, in a quest to remain relevant... or at least on the CNN political ticker.

    April 19, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  23. Dominic

    Ah, shut up you bleeping moron. How did this idiot become a Senator? These morons like to play politics with every occurence under the sun. These morons had their chance with W., a President nobody had any respect for. W. was the poster-child for stupidity. Now America has been blessed with a sensible Democratic President who knows what he's doing and the extremist, regional Party, the Gee Oh Pee, is whining.

    Instead of you morons to reflect on what led your stupid Party into the wilderness, and propose policies that would bring you lot into the arena of serious debate, you are crying like babies because Obama flashed his teeth at Hugo Chavez. What a bunch of losers. These idiots are losing elections all over the country and they are digging their heels deeper into the sand of irrelevance.

    In any case, carry on. Understand this: Democrats are looking forward to 2012 when the strategic annhiliation of the Republican Party will be completed. The Democratic Party will drive the stake deeper into the heart of vicious the Republican demons who have afflicted the world with so much suffering all these years.

    Stupid losers.

    April 19, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  24. concern

    Senator Ensign needs to take a course in diplomacy in a community college. Will his high school grades permit him to do so?

    April 19, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  25. eric

    way to go obama,like thee ole saying goes" you get more flies with honey than with vinegar." keep it up don't listen to the republicans not only is this party dead but the best they could do is Maccain and Palin??? what this John Ensign should be doing is proceedeing ways to file war charges against Bush for torturing people wihich is a crime in the eye of international law..

    menifee, ca.

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
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