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. robin kelly

    How interesting – this laughing and gesturing, only 1 day after one of Chavez leading opposition leaders mysteriously disappears.

    I suppose all of you who think this is "good" think Obama should be laughing and shaking hands with drug lords next, followed by serial killers and child molesters. Afterall, they should be dialoged with, right?

    April 19, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  2. Jan/ NY

    Each time a Republican opens their mouth, more negitivity comes out. One would think that if they love their country, it would make them proud to see our President taking down walls and building bridges with other countries and restoring our standing as a nation. They are so self serving and righteous that they are the ones sacrificing the safety of the American people. President Obama is too smart for their tactics and he will continue to do what he sees as the right thing for the American people and we are behind him 100%!!!!!!! He is exactly what our country needs!

    April 19, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  3. Amanda

    I am guessing it will not be much longer before we all start calling each other "Comrade"!

    April 19, 2009 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  4. Minesh

    Obama is happy to meet with anyone who hates America and its free-speech. I wonder what that tells about Obama's own views!

    April 19, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  5. Ambrose Smith, Borrego Springs, California

    Irresponsible is George Bush trying to hand the keys to our U.S. ports to Dubai.

    Remember that?

    And remember how the GOP was SHOCKED at the outrage?

    April 19, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  6. Vic

    Lemme guess - the person making this irresponsibility claim is a Republican. Right???

    April 19, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  7. kenneth kroh

    I will no longer watch cnn. Your reporting about the tax protests were so biased it leads me to believe you do not support the constituon. It says we have the right to peaceful assembly and the right to free speech. Your reporter was so biased it made me sick! I have deleted CNN channel from our TV.

    April 19, 2009 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  8. Chad

    I think all you Obama fanatics need to get some Bush Hating therapy. Do you guys wake up in a bad mood every day??

    To see an Amercian President cozy up to a brutal dictator makes you people happy?

    April 19, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  9. Jim - Austin, Texas, USA

    I am a straight-ticket Republican. Yet I wholly support Obama's efforts to establish better relations with all foreign governements, including Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, and even North Korea. I had even hoped that Obama would make a motion at the OAS meeting to re-admit Cuba into the OAS and waited for another country to second the motion.

    If the United States is going to continue to attempt to export democracy to the rest of the world, it is going to have to let these people run their own countries. To the extent these countries are rulled by tyrants, the people of these countries will overthrow them when the time is right. Let them move at their own pace.

    One more thing. Why are Americans of Cuban descent now allowed to travel to Cuba, while the rest of us Americans cannot? Doesn't this violate our constitutional rights, such as the equal protection clause?


    April 19, 2009 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  10. Patrick

    Stop talking our President down!!!

    April 19, 2009 11:53 am at 11:53 am |
  11. paul oregon

    ah john king a so-so t.v. personality, quite frankly i would rather listen to a news journalist and i can make up my own mind. maybe bill
    schneider could run a poll and ask how many people have either
    quite or drasiticly curtailed watching cnn like me? if i wanted to watch a circus id watch fox!!!!!!!

    April 19, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  12. claude

    For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

    Democrats, liberals, illegal mexicans, homosexuals, tree huggers and
    hussen obama ...HATE THE TRUTH!!!!
    I thought obama was going to kiss chavez????you think

    April 19, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  13. LovePolitics

    The Bush administration didn't talk to Cuba, Chavez, Iran, .. for 8 years. Where did that get them? No where. Did any of these regimes collapse or suffered as a result? No. Doing the same thing expecting a different result is truly a sign of stupidity.
    "keep your friends close but your enemies closer". You finally have a smart president.

    April 19, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  14. Dan

    Republican way or the highway!

    April 19, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  15. Scott

    Yes, because being a grown up and talking to people we disagree with does not follow the successful patterns laid out by George Bush. Oh wait, Bush was an abject failure. My bad.

    April 19, 2009 11:54 am at 11:54 am |
  16. Paul from Kissimmee

    He's laughing with the guy, and he accepted an Anti-American book as a gift from Chavez. He is nothing but a shame to this country and an all out coward. Or, he's anti-American himself. Go figure. I'm sure this comment won't make it out of moderation on this liberal site, but oh well.

    April 19, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  17. jojo mcgee

    To the many half educated nimrods here. Hugo is not a socialist. He is a Marxist thug. He is of the same cloth of Castro. Catro has put thousands before his firing squads to create his Obaman paradise. That is what Hugo will do. And that is what Obama and the Democrat party will do in this country. Look at Napolitano's sick attack on the military, pro-lifers, etc. She is poised and ready to assist Obama in crushing dissent in this country. The firing squads of the Democrats will not be too far behind.

    April 19, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  18. Ted van Tol

    Mark, your comments become shorter by the day.
    Give Barack another year and finaly we are freed
    from your stupid right wing comments. I love this
    President more by the day and so is the world.

    April 19, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  19. MK

    The USA lost it's "prestige" a long time ago..... when the cowboy mentality took over 8 long years ago. It is a good thing to have a President who is not arrogant and see's our place amongst the Country's. Yes, we are a good Country but we are not the only good Country in the world. It is time for Americans to open their eyes and look at the damage that was done during our previous administration. It needs to be repaired. Open lines of communication go a long way to help keep us safe.

    April 19, 2009 11:55 am at 11:55 am |
  20. Read between the lines

    First of all, the memo was about to be released by the courts. Obama actually bought more time by releasing this, because if it had gone through the courts likely other, more highly classified documents, would have been ordered declassified along with this.

    Second, just because someone doesn't like the United States doesn't make them a dictator, and just because they threaten you doesn't mean they have taken power illegitimately. This senator is talking out of his hat and trying to sound smarter then he really is.

    April 19, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  21. Ron

    For heaven's sake, let's not try to make any headway with enemies of our country. What would keep the war machine going?

    Don't these guys ever learn? Just how well has our isolation of these countries worked? I guess these republican leaders never heard the expression "keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer."

    April 19, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  22. Johnny

    I was wondering when the right wingers were going to start complaining about diplomacy. I guess they had to wait to be told what to think.

    Seriously, Obama's doing a fantastic job in reaching out to Latin America. Only an idiot or a blind partisan hack would think otherwise.

    April 19, 2009 11:56 am at 11:56 am |
  23. Dave

    Yeah, it's much better to ignore countries who disagree with the US, further divide us, and never talk with them...it worked SO well for the Bush administration...no problems there...

    April 19, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  24. Truth B Told

    In consideration of Obama's others friends, Hugo probably doesn't look so bad to him.

    April 19, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  25. Rick James

    He is one of the most anti American leaders in the world because of people like Ensign. If they did not try and demonize everyone they disagreed with, the other people wouldn't dislike us. If you tried being friendly instead of threatening they would warm up to us.

    April 19, 2009 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
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