Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey took over the gavel of the Foreign Relations Committee from John Kerry when Kerry was confirmed as Secretary of State. Here is what one Obama administration official thinks about the change:

“He’s harder to work with than his predecessors,” complains one former Obama administration official, who didn’t want to be named critiquing the new chairman. “You are at the cusp of the most consequential breakthrough in relations with Iran since 1979,” the former administration official said. “Why the hell would Congress want to throw a hand grenade into those talks?”

This official is referring to Menendez’s determination to introduce a bill that increases sanctions on Iran despite the warnings of the White House and the State Department that such a bill is imprudently provocative and could undermine sensitive negotiations with the Iranian government that could avert another war in the Middle East.

Sen. Menendez evidently does not give a fuck about the administration’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran. He also has absolutely zero interest in improving relations with Cuba. I can attest from personal experience that the White House is peeved about Menendez’s behavior and doesn’t really care who knows about it. From their point of view, Menendez is pushing a bad bill and they want him either to stop or to be defeated.

From a progressive point of view, I would go further. I think that Sen. Menendez is absolutely inviting a primary challenger. The White House won’t talk about that, but I am certain that they would welcome it. If, say, Rep. Rush Holt wanted to challenge Menendez in 2018, I am confident that he’d get encouragement from the Obama administration and hordes of progressives volunteering for his campaign.

But, unfortunately, it appears that Menendez will be chairing that committee for the remainder of the Obama presidency.

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