U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez on Tuesday went to Morris County to announce federal funding for a construction project at the Army’s Picatinny Arsenal weapons-development hub, and used the occasion to blast President Trump over his decision to pull U.S. troops from positions in northern Syria.
The state’s senior representative in the upper house of Congress said $41 million would be spent on a new technology center dedicated largely to weapons disassembly.
Menendez, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Morris), said the congressional delegation sped up the contract to get it signed four days before a Trump deadline would have siphoned off the money for the wall he wants to build on the nation’s southern border.
“Earlier this year, President Trump issued an emergency declaration that proposed raiding the funding of U.S. military construction projects to build a border wall that he promised Mexico was going to pay for,” the Democrat from Paramus said. “When I saw Picatinny’s new munitions disassembly complex along with other installations in New Jersey listed as potential targets, I thought to myself, not on my watch.”
‘You cannot abandon your allies’
Menendez said the new project would help preserve the base’s future. Picatinny Arsenal is where 90% of the American military’s lethal weapons are designed. With 6,500 workers, it is the largest employer in Morris County.
“Here are some of the brightest minds in armament technology, munitions, chemical and mechanical engineering, all come together to help our military be on the cutting edge of lethality and precision,” Menendez said. “Simply put, Picatinny is the brainpower behind our nation’s firepower.”
After the Picatinny announcement, Menendez was asked about the fighting in northern Syria that has alarmed many Americans. Trump has come under sharp criticism for his recent decision to pull U.S. forces away from positions where they had worked with Kurdish forces in the continuing campaign to control ISIS, ahead of advances by Turkish forces looking to dislodge the Kurds. Many, including members of his own party, have said Trump’s move was a betrayal of one of America’s key allies in the region.
“I think it is one of the worst decisions in terms of national security and national interest that has taken place,” Menendez said. “I think you cannot abandon your allies, because you send a global message — when the United States is done with you they will leave you to die on the battlefield.”
Sherrill painted a similarly grim picture.
“We have further Russian influence coming in, we’re going to see further Iranian influence,” the first-term Democrat said. “These are both countries that are against our interest in that region, simply because the president made a very poor decision and is refusing to reverse that decision.”
Menendez also took aim at comments by Trump’s secretary of defense.
“You know, I was very upset when I heard Secretary [Mark] Esper say, ‘Well, we’re caught between two conflicting forces.’ Well, we’re caught there because the president opened the door and allowed Turkey to come through. We weren’t in that position before,” he said.
Menendez also said he’s going to call for immediate hearings into the Syria crisis, and if Republicans in the Senate balk, Democrats will hold their own informal hearings.