Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hearing the Nominee

First word on this morning's Senate confirmation hearing for Holy See Ambassador-designate Miguel Diaz comes from the Washington Times' Julia Duin:

To start with, fellow Catholic Sen. Bob Casey, the presiding member of the Senate Foreign Relations [sub]committee, hardly grilled the nominee. His major question: What was Mr. Diaz's sense of the recent meeting at the Vatican between Pope Benedict XVI and the president? The nominee responded that the pair discussed outreach to Muslims, Middle East peace, Cuba, the political situation in Honduras and the pope's encyclicals on "bioethics and abortion." Now the former would have been the just-released Caritas in Veritate and I'm guessing the latter was the Dignitas Personae, released late last year.

His recitation differs somewhat from the official Vatican press release so it's possible Mr. Diaz got some information from the White House

Mr. Diaz's brief prepared speech and replies to Mr. Casey's questions were so bland and boilerplate that I didn't even take notes. And Mr. Casey seemed far more interested in questioning the would-be ambassador to Saudi Arabia on anti-Semitic textbooks in Saudi schools than probing Mr. Diaz.

Afterward the hearing was over, I and another reporter rushed Mr. Diaz, hoping to get some decent comments plus contact information.... The nominee brushed us aside, only saying he was "very proud" to be nominated but he had to be with his family. Well, his family, which consisted of wife Marian and four children standing a few feet away, were hardly going anywhere.

When we protested Mr. Diaz's seeming inability to say much of anything, we were reminded that we had to go through the State Department for interviews. Ah, yes, the State Department; always so helpful when it comes to connecting reporters with elusive ambassadors. And the other nominees were standing around, chatting with reporters and bystanders. But no, Mr. Diaz marshalled his family for a photo in the front part of the briefing room, then escaped through a back door for Senate staff only. Bad sign.

...and an outlet on-hand from the designee's home-state of Minnesota provides even more:
During the hour-and-a-half meeting, which seemed like kiddy court next to last week’s marathon Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Sonia Sotomayor, Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken enthusiastically introduced [Diaz and Morocco Amb.-des. Sam Kaplan] before they gave their opening statements and faced one question from subcommittee chairman Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn....

Diaz, in his opening comments, discussed how his unique background could positively inform his work in Vatican City.

If confirmed, Diaz would be the first Hispanic to serve as ambassador to the Holy See. Diaz, who was born in Cuba and moved to Florida at age nine, is fluent in English, Spanish and Italian. In addition to his current teaching posts, he has also taught religious studies and theology at three other universities, including Notre Dame.

“As a Cuban American, my identity has been shaped by two cultures,” Diaz said. “I strongly believe that this has made me more open to others.”

But Diaz stressed that his experience is “not limited to the realm of books... and the classroom.”

“At the College of St. Benedict, I have worked with religious leaders to [engage] communities,” Diaz said.

Diaz added that if confirmed he would focus on issues of cultural diversity, immigration, poverty and the role of religion in society.

Casey asked Diaz to give his assessment of the recent meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI and how it might affect his work as ambassador.

Diaz said that the president and the Pope had touched on many subjects of common interest: inter-culture dialogue, outreach to the Muslim community, establishing mutual commitments to the peace process, foreign assistance and abortion issues.

“It set up a great foundation for our work in years to come,” Diaz concluded.

The full Foreign Relations Committee is expected to approve the nomination next week; provided it does, the pick would move to the Senate floor for a final vote.

SVILUPPO: From the Twin Cities' Star Tribune, a bit more context:
The formalities were provided by Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Democrats who read laudatory opening statements. Then came friendly questioning from Pennsylvania Democrat Robert Casey, who did all he could to lend the impression of a smooth ride to confirmation later this month....

Diaz made a few remarks about President Obama’s recent meeting with Pope Benedict XVI.

Significantly, the word abortion was never mentioned.