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. Daniel R. Martin

    In my opinion Sen. Ensign needs to wake up from that antiquated dream he seems to be in. As a Liberal/Conservative I take exception to most present day Republicans who have really departed from the traditional Conservative ideoligies of Nelson Rockefeller, Jacaob Javits and Barry Goldwater who followed a traditional position of supporting and opossing oposition policies without taking the position that we must oppose for the sake of opposing.

    April 19, 2009 11:30 am at 11:30 am |
  2. jackie

    All of the comments here that are trying to make light of Chavez becasue they are pro Obama should try and live in Venezuela for a day. They would get robbed by their cab driver, threatened with a gun by a teenager, and then end up in a trash can somewhere. Huge crime, huge poverty and massive infrastructure/pollution issues.

    April 19, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  3. Pragmatist

    ...have been defeated in the past election. Talking to friends is easy....talking to enemies is CRITICAL.

    Obama is acting like a true statesman. Global relationships have, and always will be, built on personal relationships...something we in the U.S. simply don't understand (because we have such a strong tradition of governing continuity and stability). Obama may leave office as THE most successful foreign policy president in the HISTORY of the U.S.

    April 19, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  4. Brian

    Irresponsible? Come on now... Not talking and expecting something to improve or change is irresponsible.

    Why is it that all republican senators want to do is say Obama is wrong on everything. They had 8-years to be right and bankrupted our nation, killed over 4000 of our service men and women, blatantely announced "Mission Accomplished" and publically stated "Bring it On" to the world...

    The only thing that comes out of republican's mouths now is blah-blah-blah... OR... The Charlie Brown's teacher "Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa"....

    Nobody is listening. If they would work on being right as opposed to announcing everyone else as wrong, perhaps then they would gain some approval.

    The American citizen's BS-Meter is finely tuned. Every time a republican talks in opposition to progress, they loose another 1000 listeners. Keep it up though! I can't wait until the GOP splits into two parties.

    – The GOD Party

    – The moderate conservative (the party in which I'll rejoin".

    April 19, 2009 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  5. Steve

    Let's see things for what they are. These republikan nay-sayers are unhappy that their view of the World is a complete and utter failure and that their President an abject failure. The American people have spoken, and clearly. They reject the Bush/Cheney cowboy mentality. It's over boys and there's a new Sheriff in town. So take your black hats and go home.

    April 19, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  6. Enlightened Voter

    Republicans = NO solutions, NO diplomacy, NO nothing!

    April 19, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  7. Va 4 Obama

    OMG... lighten up. Did you expect President Obama to turn his back on the guy? The Republicans will try and cast a negative light on ANYTHING Pres. Obama does. Get a grip!! I know this is an unfamiliar saying to Republicans but as my dear grandmother used to say "you can catch more flies w/honey than vinegar".

    April 19, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  8. Engineer in Raleigh

    Republicans whining about Obama? What a shocker.

    If the GOP were in charge, they'd launch a media blitz saying that al Qaeda was hiding in Venezuela. Then we'd invade Venezuela and stay there for 100 years.

    April 19, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  9. Chad

    Why has CNN's audience become so left-leaning these days? The comments on this article are so hateful.

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  10. Tom

    Republicans have a basic problem of insecurety. They have to have an enemy. By O'Bama smiling instead of packing heat just maybe the world may get to a better place. In the meantime, I have every confidence that Chavez, or Ahamadinejad, will not pull the wool over our Presidents eyes.

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  11. Anonymous

    we as americans need to reach out to all parts of the world. one thing is sure; we will always have people who will not agree with all what we and that is good . we should not always expect all countries to like what we do.
    The truth is America is the most oppressive nation on earth. we try to force our agendas on other nations and that is why they dont like us.An example is the Iraq war... these talibans are killing themselves and not us but because we want their oil and we cant access it we result into bombong their country and killing 4200 soldiers.... we should leave them to do whatever they want to do and not waste our money on a war that is based on oppresion and greed obama is trying to change that. Let us pray he will succeed.

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  12. Mark

    Obama is a weakling who appears to still be running for high school president.

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  13. Curtis in WI

    I really don't understand why republicans think that if you refuse to talk to someone long enough then long-lasting, workable agreements on issues with another nation will just magically appear. Can someone explain it to me?

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  14. Svengali ... You Got No Game

    Republicans .... stop trying so hard and maybe you'll score with the American public.

    But right now, we are rebelling against your never-ending hatefest against the PRESIDENT. We resent you Svengalian attempts to plant subliminal messages into our minds.

    We are not idiots to be MANIPULATED ... no matter where we live ... no matter how much schooling we've had ... no matter if we drive a Prius or a F-150 pickup ... right now we won't be divided by GOP partisan talking points from (Limbaugh, Hannity, Gingrich, Boehner, Cantor, Ingram, Coultier, Palin, Perry, Jindal, Barbour)

    April 19, 2009 11:33 am at 11:33 am |
  15. Mike J

    The mere picture of a smiling Chavez with a smiling Obama will take send a message to the Venezuelan people that America has changed and Chavez has a connection with Obama. This goes along with the old adage. Keep close to your friends but keep your enemies closer so you can keep an eye on them. Obama and his administration is ensuring communication channels are opened for future non egotistical talks that may actually success in bring peace and solve other problems the world faces. Any leader who preaches fear and structures communication channels to stop communication is old school and needs to retire.

    April 19, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  16. Emma, San Jose

    We can always count on the opposition to be adversarial rather than constructive, especially if the opposition is the failing party.

    April 19, 2009 11:34 am at 11:34 am |
  17. Simmy

    Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, told CNN Sunday it was "irresponsible" for President Obama to been seen "laughing and joking" with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the Summit of the Americas on Friday.
    Sen. Ensign,

    With all due respect, you sound like a jack***.....Who decreed that friendliness was off limits when attempting to make allies of leaders of rogue nations? If it were R. Castro, you'd be saying: "Off with his head." You, as an American lawmaker and citizen, sanctioned TeaBaggers and their Tea Parties, where they were vocal and visual in their contempt for the President, who is by the way, is an American Citizen. They waved signs that portrayed him as a murderer of babies, an illegal immigrant, incompetent, and went as far as to call him Hitler. Yet you condemn him for being friendly with someone who has shown him more respect than you and your fellow Americans.

    You, sir, should be ashamed of yourself, and admit that you are like the rest of your grassroots coalition. You hate that a black man is leading this nation. You feel that you are entitled to be in charge, eventhough your ancestors came here on a ship from somewhere.

    Don't waste my time with your accusations of someone using the 'race card' every time they call you on the carpet. I'm calling you out on the basis of truth and reality. You need to get a handle on your bickering. If you don't, you'll forever be the mediocre party that you are now. I see a breaking up of the old established party. Soon there'll be an Independent Party (made up of Blue Dogs and 21st Century Republicans) and Democratic Party. You are so history.

    April 19, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  18. Oregon

    Jonathan Schell wrote in 'The Unconquerable World,' "Force can only lead to more force, not to peace."
    Enough of the GOP, right wing, partisan chest bumping! It's time for the US to shed the belligerence of the past eight years and begin and extend dialogue.

    April 19, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  19. KC

    I for one am happy to see the President of our country reaching out. These Republicans are just cracking me up they say don't abort, all lives are precious and they are the first to say what ones that don't think like them are doing wrong, no kind words from Republicans...

    All should try to be nice and talk to others even if you don't agree with them, you might just be surprised where it leads.

    April 19, 2009 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  20. Anonymous, AL

    What a childish performance, Mr. Ensign.

    April 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  21. Average Canadian

    "prestige of the United States"

    HAHA that's a good one!

    April 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  22. Bethie in TX

    Talking is never irresponsible. Had Bush talked and not acted 4200 of our finest would still be alive. A man will talk. A coward will sent other to die because they are too arrogant to talk. (from George)

    George, you're a lot smarter than another George I know!! I couldn't have said this better. Amen!

    April 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  23. Pragmatist

    Also, labeling Chavez with a typical dictator label (who violates human rights, tortures, etc.) shows the depths of the neocon willingness to tell outright lies and untruths to further their cause.

    Hugo Chavez has been elected and re-elected four times by the Venezuelan people. The Bush-backed coup by the Venezuelan military junta was the only dictatorial move in Venezuela in recent history.

    April 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  24. ray

    ensign is an a hole. these morons on the right will never learn. so because you are anti american that means you sould not laugh. these obstructionist on the right needs to go in iraq and never come back.

    April 19, 2009 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  25. Whatever...

    First off, Chavez wasn't Anti-American, he was Anti-Bush along with like half of OUR country. Secondly, I'm sick of the tone of these Johnny Come Lately Republican politicians publicly chastising the PRESIDENT like he's some kid. Where were these guys when Bush was in office driving up the deficit and failing with Katrina? Thirdly, China, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Russia all commit human rights violations, where was this guy when Bush was sitting with Putin at the Olympics in Beijing? Where was the Republican Party when their presidents were shaking hands and chumming it up with dictators and despots? These Republicans do very little else these days besides try to save their party from going the way of the Whigs so they can keep their jobs. They're soo full of it!

    April 19, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
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