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. Vince

    Dear Senator, You are such a hypocritical person that it would be laughable if not for the fact that you are a United States Senator. Was it "responsible" for Bush to be seen laughing and telling jokes with the man whose "soul he could see" Mr. Putin? Or perhaps those great defenders of Democracy and Freedom the Saudi Royals? Or perhaps those WONDERFUL people running China? Now THERE is a group that defends human rights. Oh wait. We made MONEY with all of them didn't we? Oh well, that's different. That is a U.S. "interest". How about the deal that Bush cut with North Korea? How's that working out? I used to be a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. I'm disgusted. Disgusted that like all the politicians on the Hill you are more interested in bashing and trashing than doing the business of the people. And that would be ALL of the people. Not just your party. Not just your contributors. A Senator is supposed to represent the UNITED States. Oh, and by the way, please tell me how we ever get anyone to be "good citizens" if we won't TALK to them? Again, Bush's "For me or against me" doctrine. How's that working for us? Please Senator, become a lobbyist, line your pockets and spew hate and vitriol on the talk show circuit. To quote a movie, "These are serious times, and America needs serious people".

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  2. linell, Winter Park, FL,

    My husband and I predicted when we saw the handshake that this would be the Republican response...we wondered who would be the first. The GOP is self-destructing and doesn't realize it...it is sad and painful to watch.

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  3. Franky

    Ohh yeah, he was irresponsible alright, just joking and playing around with the tyrant who called my boy a negro and all sort of things, even called George Bush. By the way, you know what's irresponsible? You sitting next to the Russian prime minister while he looks at you in the eye and invades another country...who by the way was there? Do you remember??

    Ohh wow, the intelligence is so paranoid about prosecution and all these conspiracies. And for the record, WE, let me repeat that, WE could do whatever the heck he want, not our government, sorry, don't work that way. That's why we blue collar people get what we want and you don't because once again, your precious free market is what we thought it was. Ours on the other hand, works and yes, you should be ashame...

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  4. chad in avery, ca.

    chavez isnt as anti-american as he is anti-bush.
    cant really hate him for that.
    im anti-bush as well.

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  5. ALittleTruth4U

    The Repubs. had their chance and they blew it; we’re now living with the disastrous results of their unintelligent, failed agenda. Many of the less educated and less “worldly” in the red states were hoodwinked by a party that caters only to the needs of the very wealthy and did little for ninety percent of the followers that supported them. These individuals were sadly drawn in by language like “socialism,” “Fascism” and fear mongering of “The gay agenda.” The government helping its people is hardly socialism. No-bid contracts to cronies, a war based on trumped-up intelligence, trashing our constitutional rights, now THAT’S SOCIALISM!


    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  6. Pragmatist

    This is a perfect example of why Americans should count their blessings that these Neocon self-serving, Machiavellian smoke and mirrors LIARS

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  7. rkk

    I guess the camera’s weren’t fast enough to catch the bow..
    The other thing you don’t see is when MaoBama bows, Chavez
    slips a few million into his back pocket for political support.

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  8. Martie

    How come only the "dems' are allowed to make comments here??? Just wondering. hmmm

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  9. Debby

    Obama fits in well with all the anti's doesn't he?

    April 19, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  10. dustbunny

    The U.K. thinks that obama is a total jerk.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  11. Emit R Detsaw

    Chavez thought Bush was the devil. Bush wasn't have as smart or clever as the devil. Bush was just an idiot that didn't know that you have to talk to your enemies to find out what their real beef is.

    Another step by President Obama to put America back on the right path. Thank You Mr President.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  12. Greg in San Francisco

    Mr. John Ensign, did you, or could you even, stop for moment to consider perhaps it was the Bush administration that was at the center of Chavez's disdain for the United States?

    When will you and many others in your party admit that our president is more affable, educated and thus well-respected, globally, than George Walker Bush could have dreamt?

    Conflict, conflict, conflict... Those are the three credos of the GOP these days. Please stop, and let Obama do his thing, just as Bush did his.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  13. Va Teacher

    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.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  14. Steve H.

    The Spend & Borrow Republicans prefer that America is hated by the rest of the world–that's the goal they worked for during the Bush administration. Their "with us or against us" attitude doesn't belong in today's world.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  15. Mark G.

    To the idiots who thought Bush's ideology was in the best interest of US and the rest of the world. Bush did more damage to our standing with the rest of the world in eight years prior to Obama becoming prez than any of his predecessors. Do you idiots need a list of things that were said by Bush? How many presidents had shoes thrown at them? Did you ever stop to think that perhaps that this is not an ideology issue rather, conventional wisdom and the will of the people is actually happening? No, that would be too difficult for you right-wing nut jobs. America is starting to look like a leader, rather than a bully on the worldwide stage under Obama.
    Let's see if CNN would even show my remarks.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  16. lou

    Chavez has used the "us against the US" and "I stand up to America:" to generate populist support for his failed polices. Talking with him will hopefully difuse the line of rhetoric and help the people of Venezuela vote him out of office when they see how he has driven their country into the ground.

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  17. MIchael

    Naive, indeed. Now the President of the United States is reduced to Chavez's catspaw. Obama sure wasn't ready for prime-time...

    April 19, 2009 11:29 am at 11:29 am |
  18. Ms Russell

    Most of these comments here are very far from the middle. Far from common sense. And are filled with hate mongering. (Just a way to hate the president)

    I am not a fan of Hugo Chavez. But I do believe intelligent discourse should be given a chance. Fact is, it has to start somewhere and from this beginning we can either find a way towards effective working relationships or not.

    We are no longer in the era of condescention, and superiority based on fear and hate. Recent history shows how damaging this has been to the United States.

    In this era, we will be superior based on our ability to bridge differences, and diplomatically resolve conflicts. As we redefine America's image abroad, we hope to stand above the conflict and take an authoritarian stance. We stand a better chance of leading the world when the world respects and trusts our interests in the world society as a whole.

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  19. Parnell Meagre

    Obama is a truly transformational leader. Bravo!

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  20. JR

    Chavez has every reason to have been critical of the US.

    While US Senators cite Chavez´s reference to Bush as the devil, they forget that Bush listed Venezuela on the "axis of evil".

    Senators charge Chavez with human rights violations, while the US was torturing prisoners of "war" and spying on its own citizens.

    And let´s not forget Chavez's inmportant role as peace-maker in the release of Colombian hostages.

    On the evil-meter, Bush out-evils Chavez. I'm glad Obama sees past the cold-war villification of socialism!

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  21. MB

    Could the people who are against this please say something tangible that is based on fact and not just the typical GOP rhetoric? What was accomplished by not talking to foreign leaders? Did it work in Cuba? Does Iran or the PRK hate us less? Seems to me the polls all say the world has a more FAVORABLE impression of the US under the President. So let me see. The GOP felt we were safer when more people hated us? The more people hate us, the less they want to take out their aggressions against us? Sounds rather stupid.

    Human rights violations? Are the GOP members really ones to talk about it? Of course they're against the release of the memos. What's classified about it? In other words, keep it secret so the world doesn't know what the GOP and Bush were up to and avoid the embarrassment of them being identified as no better? I guess torture is ok as long as you claim it's to protect the US? Would you feel the same about Americans being tortured by Iraqis because they're only protecting themselves from attack by getting critical information, even if the means are illegal or inhumane? And what fear of prosecution? It was already stated no one would be prosecuted for their involvement since they were following orders. I guess he meant to say, "They fear prosecution if the continue doing it in the future". Is there really a psychologist out there who's going to say fearing you're going to drown, or die immediately doesn't cause psychological damage such as PTSD?

    So here we have a President who is trying to spread peace, openly discuss issues with world leaders, and work towards common goals and people want to equate him to a dictator, but a President who used unsubstantiated claims to justify the invasion of a country isn't a tyrant on a power trip? Let's stick to the facts and the reality that obviously escapes the GOP.

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  22. Shoaib

    "He is a brutal dictator and human rights violations are very, very prevalent in Venezuela. And you have to be careful......"

    What about all the mid-east tyrants President.Bush hanged around with?

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  23. Anonymous

    sit down and shut up republicans.... you lost the whitehouse. get over it and work with obama and the dems so that we all can get along in this world...............................sheeesh!

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  24. pops

    What ever became of "accountability"? The former executive office had none, and the VP flaunted it in the faces of those voted him into office. All the companies and their CEO's that have put the country, the world economy in this mess, again, NO ACCOUNTABILITY. If former President Bush and crew instituted illegal practices, they should be the ones at fault, not the agents at the bottom who merely performed as they were told.
    President Obama seems to be putting honor back into the office. If we can make peace with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, that just lowers the count of enemies we have. The fewer enemies we have, the more we may be able to sway the rest of the world when we want their help. The more we isolate ourselves, the harder it will be to recover. (see: U.S. History 1 the chapter about the failure of Isolationism) We don't have to be friends. You don't necessarily have to be friends with the peole you do business with, but you still have to do business.
    Thank you, President Obama, for putting us in a better light on the world stage!

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  25. Sumar

    Anti American because of Bush........now Obama has to go out and mend fences that Bush and his admistration tore down........Keep up the good work Obama......

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
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