Chris Landau Christopher Landau testifies before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations during his confirmation hearing to be Ambassador to Mexico, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ

Longtime U.S. Supreme Court advocate Christopher Landau on Tuesday appeared to sweep away any concerns that senators might have had about his lack of diplomatic experience as he faced a confirmation hearing to become U.S. ambassador to Mexico.

Landau, former clerk to Justices Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, told senators that his 30 years of legal practice will be a plus and “has given me a profound respect for the rule of law, the importance of resolving disputes civilly, and the dignity of the individual. If confirmed, I’ll bring these passions to my job in Mexico.” No senator from either party questioned his qualifications.

At the start of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Landau also stressed his upbringing as the son of an American diplomat and his own fluency in Spanish. The committee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, joked that at his private meeting with Landau recently, he “checked his Spanish” to make sure it was genuine. Landau apparently passed the test.

“This hearing brings my life full circle,” Landau said. “As an 8-year-old boy, I attended my father’s hearing as nominee for ambassador to Paraguay.” George Landau, his father, also served as ambassador to Chile and Venezuela, nominated to the posts by presidents of both parties. “My parents devoted their lives to strengthening the bonds between the U.S. and Latin America,” he said.

Landau acknowledged that the current relationship between the United States and Mexico is “one of paramount importance and complexity.” He identified three top priorities if he is confirmed: “ensure the rule of law at the border,” dealing with the “scourge of illegal drugs,” and promoting “fair and reciprocal trade.” He also said he would advocate for human rights and anti-corruption measures.

On immigration, Landau said: “My role, if confirmed, will be to foster cooperation with the Mexican people and authorities. Neither country can solve the challenge of illegal immigration alone and I’m convinced that we can find common ground.”

At one point, Landau adopted Trump administration terminology about addressing “the common challenge of migration, particularly the Central American caravans that we have been seeing over the last several months.”

Asked how he would repair the tense relationship between the United States and Mexico, Landau said he and his family would use “public diplomacy” to hear and understand Mexican points of view while also building trust with Mexican officials and citizens.

Since March 2018, Landau has been a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, after 25 years at Kirkland & Ellis. When Landau was nominated in March, Quinn Emanuel managing partner John Quinn said in a statement, “As an ambassador, he will bring his unique intelligence and high professionalism to the task of advocating for the country.”

Landau’s financial disclosure form released after being nominated reported earnings of $3 million at Quinn Emanuel, a substantial cut from his Kirkland days, where he received more than $11 million in 2017.


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