White House urges Senate Republicans to end blockade of Biden Ambassadorial Choices

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden unveiled two other appointed ambassadors on Wednesday, but the White House and Democrats have warned that moves by some Senate Republicans to block almost all diplomats and other national security appointees seriously hampered American efforts. around the globe.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has threatened to keep lawmakers eager to return home for Christmas to work in Washington next week if progress is not made on the backlog of more than 70 ambassadorial candidates in waiting for votes.

Officials in the Biden administration acknowledge that the president will almost certainly end his year with many more ambassadorial vacancies than any of his recent predecessors and that the slowing down of ambassadorial and other security choices nation has already had an impact on US relations abroad.

“It is high time that the GOP senators step down and let the Senate quickly confirm these national security candidates so that they can defend the interests of the American people in the world,” said Karine Jean, senior deputy press secretary of the White House. -Rock.

As of Tuesday, only 13 of Biden’s 85 ambassadorial candidates were confirmed by the Senate, according to the White House.

At the same time in the previous three administrations, presidents had many more of their diplomats confirmed and installed in embassies around the world. Donald Trump has confirmed 44 of his 60 candidates, Barack Obama 72 out of 96 and George W. Bush 93 out of 103.

White House officials have praised career foreign service officers who have visited embassies in an attempt to fill the void as the administration awaits confirmation of ambassadors’ choices.

Much of the White House and Schumer’s frustration was directed at a few Senate Republicans who set up roadblocks – most notably Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas – using restraints and other procedural maneuvers to slow things down. dozens of ambassadors and other appointments in the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and State.

Republican pressure is also mounting on Cruz on the subject of the holds.

“We just need to put people in place,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, highlighting vacant diplomatic posts such as those from China and Japan. He added: “It’s a dangerous world out there right now.”

Cruz said on Wednesday that he offered to lift the deductions on 16 candidates in exchange for a Senate vote on sanctioning the companies behind Nord Stream 2 – a controversial gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

See: President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin stay away from Ukraine after lengthy talks

Critics on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns that the pipeline threatens European energy security by increasing the continent’s dependence on Russian gas and allowing Russia to exert political pressure on countries vulnerable in Eastern and Central Europe, in particular Ukraine.

Josh Hawley, speaking as a candidate for the Senate alongside then-President Donald Trump at a 2018 rally at Columbia Regional Airport (Mo.), blocked votes on the candidates Biden regarding the withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan. A delayed candidate, former Republican Senator Jeff Flake, had he been in place in Ankara, could have asked for Turkish help at Kabul airport, an official told the PA.

AP / Charlie Riedel / File

Schumer countered that the Texas Republican must lift his grip on all candidates from the State and Treasury Departments and the US Agency for International Development.

“Let’s be clear about the nominees involved. We’re not talking about partisan brand names or candidates stepping out of left field. The bulk of these men and women are professional civil servants without controversy, by the rules, ”said Schumer.

Cruz was defiant, suggesting that “Schumer decided he didn’t want confirmed ambassadors. It’s a really stupid decision for him.

The Senate typically confirms uncontroversial State Department and Pentagon candidates by unanimous consent, a process that does not require the Senate to use up valuable time. Many successful candidates have been excluded from foreign relations and armed services committees with broad bipartisan support.

A detention by a senator does not prevent a candidate from being confirmed. It just takes longer to arrive at a final vote. So far, Democrats have chosen to prioritize confirmation from federal judges.

Overall, Biden has appointed 174 people to national security positions in the Defense, Homeland Security and state departments that require Senate confirmation. Sixty-three, or about 36%, have been confirmed.

Senator John Thune, Republican No. 2 in the Senate, said many GOP caucus members were hopeful that Cruz “might find a way to work with Democrats to get some of these positions filled.”

“I think there are members who are really concerned about some parts of the world in particular where we don’t have ambassadors in place and recognize that it is important that some of them be done,” he said. declared Thune.

Even with the backlog, Biden continues to send new candidates to the Senate for confirmation. The President announced on Wednesday that he would appoint Caroline Kennedy, former U.S. envoy to Japan in the Obama administration and daughter of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, to serve as senior envoy to Australia and the retired figure skater. American Michelle Kwan. serve as ambassador to Belize.

Publicly, White House officials have praised career foreign service officers who have mobilized in embassies to try to fill the void as the administration awaits confirmation of ambassadors’ choices.

But the blockade has already had a real impact on US foreign policy and national security interests in hot spots around the world, officials said.

In China – perhaps the most complicated and consistent foreign policy relationship – Biden’s foreign policy advisers fear that the absence of a Senate-confirmed diplomat has only sent the message to Beijing. The US embassy there lacks an envoy who truly speaks for the president, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida announced in November that he had suspended the appointment of Nicholas Burns as ambassador to China in an attempt to pressure Biden to enact bipartisan legislation that he co- writing banning products made with forced Uyghur labor. in western China.

The White House said on Tuesday after the House passed the bill that Biden would work closely with Congress to implement it. Rubio has said he is ready to lift Burns’ grip “if we can get it passed and signed by the White House.”

“I’m still worried about whether he’s the right fit, but in the end he’s going to get a vote. It’s an important job, ”Rubio said of the candidate.

Biden’s Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith took over the post last month, shortly after Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri suspended his appointment. His confirmation vote came after Russia had already started massing thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine.

Russia has signaled that its military maneuvers – which put Washington and much of Europe on high alert over a possible new Russian invasion of Ukraine – were linked to its concerns about the NATO extension to Ukraine.

Hawley has put other State Department candidates on hold to show his disapproval of the administration’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Jeff Flake, until this year a member of the Senate Republican Party caucus, waited more than three months for his confirmation vote at the end of October to become ambassador to Turkey.

The White House could have used Flake’s aid in August as it sought Turkish help to secure Kabul international airport before the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the official noted.

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