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. kipperra

    When all the bickering between the posters are said and done. The one thing that stands out is This President rises to new levels of incompetence everyday. There is a great line in the Clint Eastwood movie Dirty Harry that applies to President Obama and that is "A man has to know his limitations" In Obamas case thats 100% true. This man is in over his head. Everyday we see another cabinet memeber or a person picked for a new job as having not paid taxes or being investigated by the SEC. You add Pelousi,Redi, and Franks to the mix and you have a receipe for diaster for the American People. Proof is it now comes out the President of the USA wouldn't allow our snipers to shoot multiple times at the pirates and it took the commander of the Bainbridge to finally make the correct decision. Afterwards Obama grabs the news of having ordered the shootings of the pirates yet in reality he was totality indecisive. This is not a leader America needs in these trying times. Lets not forget bowing to the Saudi King to shaking hands with Chavez. How much more in mistakes and embarrassments must we be subjected to.

    April 19, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  2. Larry Schluetr

    I finally got around to checking on the CNN garbage of the day. I see that the hatrid of the democrats has been very active again this morning . . . it seems this is the usual response from the unintelligent group of BO lovers. I have stated it many times and will again restate my concern about the lack of intelligence of the responders to many of these 'stories'. If only CNN would be more of a reporting organization and state things in an equal manner, maybe the reporting would be better . . . and maybe their ratings would go higher as well.

    April 19, 2009 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  3. Dave

    I see that another Republican, who all seem to LOVE to start wars(as long as they don't have to fight in them), is upset because Pres. Obama is trying to relieve some of the tensions that Ex-Pres. Bush caused. He must have had plans to invade Venezuela so his money he invested in defense contractors could have seen substantial profits. He really cares nothing about our sons and daughters that have to DIE for his profits! We really have to try to get along on this small planet and quit telling other countrys what to do on THEIR soil!

    April 19, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  4. Randy

    They (the republicans) just can't bear the fact that Obama is making headway. Mr. Ensign cannot deal with the fact that the president may have a successful presidency. The Republicans have become irrelevant. The tax tea party sponsored by FOX and Rush Limbaugh was a joke. I mean those people protesting are what you'd called "aspirational" rich. They are fighting tax cuts for the rich!! The "Joe the Plumber" mentality. People who live in the made world of Limbaugh and right wing FOX media!

    Funny this is Obama's tax cuts will give them more money and dig them out of whatever hole the Republicans have stuck them in.

    If only they are a little bit honets, the republicans would move in the right direction.

    April 19, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  5. Trevor Przyuski

    I'm just wondering what attitude toward those world leaders with anti-American feelings the Republican Senator would prefer. Perhaps we should scowl at them. Maybe we should ignore them. That might make them feel better about us. By the way, Chavez wasn't the only leader in the world who compare Prez Bush to the devil. If we avoided everyone in the world who felt that way, there might not be many leaders left to talk to.

    April 19, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  6. David

    It was also irresponsible for Bush to receive a warning about 9/11 in August and to ignore it. It was irresponsible to lie their way into a war in Iraq for oil and cost thousands of lives. It was also irresponsible to allow large corporations skirt the law and avoid paying taxes by shipping jobs and money over seas. It was irresponsible for Bush to allow the big oil companies to bend us all over and run gas up to $4 plus per gallon for another made up supply & demand lie, It was also irresponsible for all these Redneck Govenors and politicians to go out and try to use angry white mobs at Tea parties for their own political benefit. The first time that these Republicans tell the truth will be the first time that they show any responsiblility.

    April 19, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  7. ike

    I am proud of President Obama. He is a peace maker, image maker and a leader who commands respect. I encourage the Republicans to appreciate this beautiful gift of a great leader of a life time given to Americans by the almighty God at this time in history. If the president's effort to restore Americans dignity is irresponsible then what do you call the failure agenda of the Republicans? Senator Ensign please try to see the good side of the work of our able president.

    April 19, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  8. Get Real

    I do not like or trust Hugo Chaves any farther than I could throw him.

    April 19, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  9. kenny

    If, I remember correctly Chavez was ELECTED in a free and fair election by the majority of the people of Venezuela. He is a elected head of state. Our Presidents have met with the heads of Communist China, Bush went to communist Vietnam, and shook hands with their non-elected leaders. Why is it that America has a hard time with some leaders who do not adhere to our ideals of how they should govern their nations, and yet on many occasions we have gotten in bed with the leaders of some of the most brutal regimes in the world.

    April 19, 2009 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  10. Lady DJ

    It about time we have a President that is responsible enough to know that peace is the only anwser to get along with others. Chavez is correct in his thinking of Bush. Chavez is not a dictator he was voted into office. Socialism works for some,,who are we as americans to tell others whats best for them. That has been Americas problem always try to rule the world.

    April 19, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  11. Jopa

    So, after George W. Bush destroyed the relationship with the rest of the world with his arrogant and reckless behavior and gave this weird character, Chavez, the reasons to be called "the devil", the "smart thing" for the Obama administration to do is.... the same???? Albert Einstein sai that "insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results".

    April 19, 2009 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  12. mike

    the difference between the men and the babies is that when someone
    talks trash about you you confront that person face to face and to see
    if they have the nerve to say it again .

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  13. Matt

    With all due respect Senator Ensign, not talking to Chavez has not helped either. Your political philosophy is a narrowminded, lazy, and fear mongering philosophy that says there is no possible way for reconciliation to take place between two countries. Under your party's leadership, the world situation went from somewhat ok to an absolute disaster. Your party allowed Iran to continue producing centrifuges, North Korea to develop nuclear warheads, Venezuela, the war in Iraq, Afghanistan...your party has done more to destabilize the international community in 8 years than anybody ever did in all of our nation's history. According to your party, its ok to spend trillions of dollars on things that go "boom," but as soon as that money starts going toward somebody to let their kid go to college or for food stamps, then suddenly its bad. Get over your lame and out of date philosophy.

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  14. Steve, TX

    Pres Bush was the devil. Bush violated his own countries laws and pushed people around like a dictator. If we have a problem with Chavez and his government then it is better to discuss and solve then to give him the cold shoulder. This country has had too much arrogance and self-interest over the past decade. It is time we talked and work together and respect as equals.

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  15. beelzebub55er

    Talk about jokesters...This guy Ensign...is he serious? With the havoc Bush and Cheney wreaked on the world, they would have MOTHER THERESA spouting anti-American rhetoric and using expletives in the process. We finally have someone in office the whole world seems to admire and respect, and this yo-yo Ensign, just like the rest of the thankfully discarded right wing, is whining. Why doesn't he just move to Texas with his boy Governor Perry and secede.

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  16. Mike in Texas

    The Republicans are like the adults in the Charlie Brown specials; Blah Blah Blah Blah. That is all that is coming out of their mouths.

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  17. paksa

    Too many elitiest trolls on this site, so that means no meaningful dialogue.

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  18. lonnie

    Most of his rhetoric was anti-bush, not anti-American, it is sad when facts are skewed to such a degree. The Venezuelan government even offered several American states a reduced price for heating oil not too long ago, showing he had a beef with the bush administration and not the American people as a whole. If the fear mongering doesn't stop, especially from our elected officials, then this Great Union of ours will fail.... It really is a sad day 🙁

    April 19, 2009 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  19. Lynn

    So King has the usual CNN Rep vs Dem discussion of issues and the summary devotes one small paragraph to the Democratic representative.

    Once again King shows his Rep. stripes.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  20. Greg

    Nixon went to China, a China that was ruled by a Totalitarian Communist Government. There are pictures of him smiling with the Premier shaking hands. Regan met with Gorbachev in Russia, a Russia that was ruled by a Totalitarian Communist Government. There are pictures of the two of them shaking hands and having a laugh.

    Two of the most Conservative leaders our country has ever known going to foreign enemy countries and attempting to overcome differences. President Obama shakes Chavez's hand in Trinidad and people think it is the end of the world. Please look at our long history of Statesmen who have lead this country before flying off the handle. Doing so shames their legacy and our countries legacy.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  21. Misty

    Wow! Can we collect all these right wing facists and transport them to an island- Ensign, Tea parties and absolute garbage.

    Shut up and let Obama and USA thrive.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  22. Marilyn, Powell Ohio

    Republicans and their talking heads: Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Coulter, Ingraham, etc., are the ones who are irresponsible. Maybe one of them can become president of Texas.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  23. Mark

    Another out of touch Republican spewing the same fear based rhetoric that caused them to loose.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  24. Willy Brown

    Yep. Mr. One Term and done. Thank you #44 ! Change is coming starting in 2010.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  25. Kent

    The negativists are fools. Problems require attention. Ignoring a problem only lets it fester. Dialog leads to solutions. Oh, Ensign.....I'd like to hear how you think we should SOLVE problems, not just recognize known problems.

    April 19, 2009 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
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