Secretary of State John Kerry used his remarks at the Center for American Progress’ 10-year Anniversary Policy Conference on Thursday to sharply criticize the U.S. government shutdown this month, saying that it hurt America’s credibility abroad.
Kerry relayed stories about global leaders on a trip he took during the shutdown, making jokes about pay for the U.S. delegation’s dinner since they weren’t sure the delegation was being paid. But he said the undertones of the message were no laughing matter.
“As we negotiate with Iran, as we negotiate with the Middle East peace process in Israel, can we be counted on? Will the Congress come through? Can the president make an agreement which will be held?” said Kerry. “The shutdown, and the dysfunction and the simplistic dialogue that came with it, didn’t impress anyone about the power of America’s example.”
As America’s top diplomat, the former Democratic senator is no longer in politics, and is not allowed to take a partisan position. He pointed to the world’s media headlines, which he said didn’t seem concerned with blaming Republicans or Democrats for the problems, but all of Washington.
“None of these assessments blamed one political party or another,” he said. “They took no interest whatsoever in opinion polling, hypothetical electoral consequences, 2016, who won the news cycle, who would win the Senate…. They simply wanted to know: Will America be a credible partner tomorrow?” said Kerry.
He described some of the global, diplomatic consequences of the shutdown, including temporarily halting new refugees and students coming to the U.S., delaying security aid to Israel, furloughing officials whose job is to enforce the sanctions against Iran and furloughing the research of four Nobel Laureates who are working in the federal government.
Kerry also said that negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade agreement with Europe and Asia were delayed, an agreement that would help create jobs domestically.
The secretary said that the damage done is reversible, but not if Congress and the administration have the same fight in few months leading to another shutdown and economic instability.
“The world will not wait for us,” said Kerry. ”The shutdown is now behind us, but the answers to many of the same questions still stare us in the face and await us. In the weeks and months to come, we need our conversation to be worthy of the confidence and trust of the American people, and recognize it is part and parcel of the power of America’s example in the world.”