GOP Critics Press Trump to Withdraw Nominee For Colombia Ambassadorship

Lee, Cruz, Rubio have criticized Trump pick Joseph Macmanus

Joseph Macmanus / Getty Images
• February 7, 2018 5:00 am


Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) has renewed his call for President Trump to withdraw his nominee to be ambassador to Colombia and consider other candidates for the post.

Lee, along with Sens. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Marco Rubio, (R., Fla.), have taken issue with Trump's choice of Joseph Macmanus, a 30-year veteran of the foreign service who was close to Clinton and served as one of her top aides during her tenure as secretary of State.

"Sen. Lee is continuing to engage the administration on the issue, and we hope other candidates will emerge," a Lee spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon.

The trio of GOP senators, along with several conservative members of the foreign policy community, have argued that there are much stronger candidates who would reliably back the administration's efforts to crack down on drug trafficking and broker better trade deals.

As one of Clinton's closest advisers, Macmanus also was deeply involved in the State Department's initial response to the Benghazi attack and became entangled in the scandal over Clinton's use of a private email account, the senators have argued.

Critics of Macmanus have pressed Trump to choose a political appointee who is committed to Trump's agenda and has a strong sense of U.S. business interests and policy there, rather than a career diplomat entrenched in the State Department bureaucracy.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to schedule a hearing for Macmanus, who Trump nominated to the post in late November despite GOP Senators' objections. If Macmanus survives the committee hearing process, a GOP senator has pledged to place a hold on the nomination, a way to block its consideration, according to knowledgeable GOP Senate aides.

Efforts to convince Trump to reconsider the nomination took on greater urgency this week as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson makes a swing through South America, including stops at top cocaine-producing nations Colombia and Peru.

Tillerson's trip, his first to the region, was complicated by a threat from President Trump last Friday to cut off aid to countries that allow drugs in the United States.

Trump on Friday said that unnamed countries have been "pouring drugs" into the United States and "laughing at us," and suggested he would reconsider the "massive aid" the United States provides to them.

"So, I'm not a believer in that, I want to stop the aid," Trump told the acting commission of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, during a forum in Virginia.

Tillerson spent Monday and part of Tuesday in Peru and traveled to Colombia Tuesday afternoon. He met with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and discussed efforts to reduce cocaine production as well as the status of the peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a leftist guerilla terrorist group funded cocaine production and trafficking.

During a joint press conference after the meeting, Santos said the two discussed the "global problem of illegal drugs" and the two countries "shared responsibility" and emphasized that both demand and supply are part of the problem.

"There is no supply without demand, no demand without supply," he said.

He also argued that the country had exceeded its goals for last year in eradicating coca farms, stressing that the the government had seized a record level of cocaine during the eight years of his administration as well as 416 tons last year, a record for seizures in a single year.

Tillerson said he was encouraged by the efforts, but argued that "results matter" and the U.S. needs to see "the metrics going in the correct way."

Asked whether Trump's threat to pull aid is real, Tillerson said what the president was communicating is "how serious he sees the problem and how seriously he takes the steps to reverse these trends."

"And he clearly is very interested and we’ll be following the results, and that’s what matters, is the results," Tillerson said.

Colombia's government received roughly $10 billion in funding from the United States between 2000 and 2015 for military and social programs. Before leaving office, Obama signed off on an additional $450 million in aid to Colombia last year to help support a peace deal.

Trump last year warned Colombia it could be decertified as a U.S. partner in the drug war after a record spike in its cocaine production.

Three months later, Bogota appeared to thumb its nose at the threat by significantly lowering its coca-eradication goals for this year.

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker, a holdover from the Obama administration, appeared to back the more lenient targets, spurring criticism from conservatives in the U.S. that the Trump administration is not holding the Colombian government accountable.

The United States is the largest consumer of Colombian cocaine, with 90 percent of cocaine for sale in the United States coming from Colombia, according to the State Department. After several years of decreasing output, which many GOP lawmakers attribute to the Plan Colombia policy, the size of Colombia's coca crop has exploded since 2013.

The production boom has correlated with a spike in U.S. sales and use, the State Department warned in its annual report on the global narcotics trade last year.

"There are troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade," the report noted.

The report said that a number of factors likely contributed to the increased coca cultivation, including Colombia's decision in October 2015 to end the aerial-eradication spraying policy that was part of the Plan Colombia agreement.