WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday denounced the Trump administration’s proposal to cut the budgets of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development by more than 23 percent, telling the secretary of state that the drastic drop would threaten national security and that it showed “contempt for diplomacy.”
Appearing before two House committees, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought to justify the administration’s smaller budget request and foreign policy strategy on a range of global issues, including North Korea, Russia and Venezuela. It was Mr. Pompeo’s first testimony in his current job in front of Democrat-controlled committees, and neither party was particularly receptive.
“These self-inflicted constraints compromise the quality of our efforts, make it harder to maintain American leadership in the world, create risks to our national security and are a disservice to the American taxpayer,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The Trump administration has requested about $40 billion for the agencies overseen by Mr. Pompeo for the fiscal year that begins in October.
“You should know there are difficult choices when budgets are to be made,” Mr. Pompeo said.
Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the proposed cuts “dead on arrival.”
Mr. Pompeo faced tough questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee, where lawmakers criticized the administration’s approach to several foreign policy issues, notably Saudi Arabia and the murder last October by Saudi agents of Jamal Khashoggi, the Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist.
But on other issues, the questioning diverged in tone along party lines, with Republicans praising the administration’s approach on North Korea and on Israel while Democrats were more critical.
Congress has long resisted attempts from the Trump administration to slash the department’s budget, maintaining that the programs are essential to promoting United States interests and security. The White House, hewing to its isolationist foreign policy, proposed cutting State Department funding by 29 percent in the current-year budget, but even the Republican-controlled Congress of the time all but jettisoned the administration’s blueprint and instead increased the agency’s budget by $200 million, folding it into a massive spending package that President Trump grudgingly signed.
This year will be no different, lawmakers told Mr. Pompeo on Wednesday.
In sometimes testy remarks, Mr. Pompeo defended the administration’s budget plan for the State Department and the Agency for International Development. He praised the White House’s commitment to “optimize the effectiveness of our outdated and fragmented overseas humanitarian assistance.”
The sales job did not appear to work.
“After Congress made it clear we would not gut American diplomacy, the administration made essentially the same request,” Mr. Engel said. “This in my view demonstrates contempt for diplomacy and diplomats and contempt for the Congress, frankly, whose job it is to decide how much to spend on foreign affairs.”
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the committee’s ranking Republican, told the secretary that “certain cuts can have unintended consequences that cost us more in the long term.” He quoted Jim Mattis, the former defense secretary: “If you don’t fund the State Department fully, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
One of the more heated exchanges of the afternoon came when Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Democrat of New York, said Mr. Pompeo and other Republicans were hypocrites for attacking Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, during House hearings over the attacks on a United States compound in Benghazi, Libya, then seeking a 40 percent cut to diplomatic security. Mr. Pompeo was the most outspoken House member against Mrs. Clinton during the hearings on Benghazi.
“Where is the concern now on the side of the aisle of this administration about diplomatic security?” Mr. Meeks asked.
Mr. Pompeo responded, “Diplomatic security is not about dollars expended.”
The issue of Saudi Arabia has drawn bipartisan condemnation of the Trump administration from Congress, which is suspicious of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi — the C.I.A. has concluded that he ordered the murder — and his role in pushing Saudi forces in the disastrous war in Yemen.
On Wednesday, Representative Brad Sherman, Democrat of California, pressed Mr. Pompeo on the administration’s nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia. Last month, House Democrats released a report that said top administration officials had pushed to build nuclear power plants throughout Saudi Arabia over the objections of White House lawyers.
“If you can’t trust a regime with a bone saw, you should not trust it with nuclear weapons,” Mr. Sherman said, referring to a tool that Turkish officials have said was used to dismember Mr. Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
But perhaps the most heated exchange came from Representative Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey and the former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, who listed off a series of North Korea’s human rights abuses before noting that Mr. Trump withdrew new sanctions aimed at North Korea because the president “likes” the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.
Was Mr. Kim “responsible for the decision not to allow Otto Warmbier to come home until he was at death’s door?” Mr. Malinowski asked, referencing the American college student who was imprisoned in North Korea and returned to the United States in a coma. “What is there to like?”
”Don’t make this a political football sir,” Mr. Pompeo blustered back. “It’s inappropriate to do so.”