“Values that include upholding human rights for all and a free and open market; a rules-based order in the oceans surrounding China and the importance of (a) free press,” Branstad said during prepared remarks.
Branstad appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this morning. Branstad began by thanking his family and he told senators never in his “wildest dreams” had he expected a “farm boy…from Leland, Iowa,” would be nominated for this key diplomatic post. Branstad ended the two-hour hearing with a sobering message about his potential role in convincing China to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“I see this as probably the biggest challenge that I’ve ever had in my entire life,” Branstad said, “and I want to do anything and everything I can to find an acceptable solution for the benefit of the entire human race.”
Several members of the committee also aired their concerns about North Korea’s aggression. Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and Branstad discussed the rising tensions in the region.
“We don’t need a second Korean War, that’s for sure,” Markey said.
Branstad replied: “No, we don’t. We need (China’s) help and I don’t think they want a war over this either. They don’t want a bunch of refugees from North Korea pouring into China.”
Only three of President Trump’s ambassadors have been confirmed by the senate. Branstad hinted he may represent U.S. interests with key Asian allies like South Korea and Australia until U.S. ambassadors arrive in those countries.
“The world is facing a very critical threat from North Korea at this time and I want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stone unturned,” Branstad said.
Branstad discussed trade issues with the senators, too. Branstad said he “feels very strongly” about giving American cattle producers access to China’s market. And Branstad blasted China’s foot-dragging on importing U.S. beef.
“I want to be able to serve beef, American beef, specifically Iowa Premium beef at the embassy and at the ambassador’s residence,” Branstad said, getting some laughter from senators and the crowd. “I don’t think it’s fair that right now we have to serve Australian beef or Argentinian beef and, you know, this issue goes back to Mad Cow disease.”
Branstad emphasized it was a cow from Canada, not the U.S., that prompted the import ban in China.
Branstad brought up his yearly visits to each of Iowa’s 99 counties and sparked laughter in the committee room when he mentioned the feat is called “the full Grassley” in honor of U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley. Branstad then told senators he plans to visit every province in China every year.
“I will work tirelessly to represent America and her citizens to the best of my ability,” Branstad said. “I will champion American interests in China with as much fervor and dedication as I’ve championed Iowa’s interests.”
None of the senators on the committee raised concerns about Branstad’s nomination and it’s expected the full senate will confirm Branstad to his new post later this month. Iowa’s two U.S. senators delivered testimonials for Branstad before the governor spoke to the committee this morning. Senator Chuck Grassley said Branstad would bring “Midwestern humility” to the job.
“This gentleman has been an ambassador all of his life for Iowa and will make a good ambassador to China,” Grassley said.
Senator Joni Ernst emphasized Branstad’s first meeting with the current president of China in 1985 and Branstad’s half dozen trade missions to China.
“Iowa’s extensive trade relationship with China has given Governor Branstad a front-seat view of the complexities of our country’s broader trade and economic relationship with China,” Ernst said.
Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the hearing at 9 a.m. Iowa time.
“Beijing is not Des Moines,” Corker said, pausing as people in the committee room laughed. “But I know that your relationship with President Xi spans decades and I know that you fully understand the breadth and depths of the challenges awaiting you in China.”
There were a few light-hearted moments during the hearing. Florida Senator Marco Rubio mentioned his family’s visit to the Iowa State Fair in 2015 when he was running for president, joking that his kids told him they learned from the experience that “you can fry anything.” Branstad laughed and noted “even butter” is dipped in batter and fried at one state fair food stand.
Video of Branstad’s hearing is available here on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee website.