Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called on the Senate to quickly confirm more than three dozen State Department candidates, charging that delaying tactics employed by Republican senators seeking leverage on unrelated issues were « undermining national security « .
Blinken’s comments reflect growing alarm in the Biden administration about Republican moves to block candidates across the government, including in the Defense Department and the Justice Department.
Mr. Blinken said 38 presidential candidates for State Department posts had completed hearings and been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but had been denied confirmation votes by the entire Senate. Among them are aspiring ambassadors to several countries where the United States has critical interests, including the UAE, Ethiopia and Jordan, as well as the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism.
Senate Republicans are using their parliamentary powers to block broad categories of candidates, in a practice once considered over the line that has become increasingly common.
Last month, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would suspend Senate action on all State Department candidates until the Biden administration provides him with documents relating to the origins of the coronavirus, which he says they were leaked from a Chinese lab. Other Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and JD Vance of Ohio, have also blocked candidates for different reasons.
« These delays are undermining our national security, » Blinken told reporters during an unusual appearance at the State Department’s daily media briefing. The vast majority of deadlocked State Department candidates are career diplomats and more than a third have been waiting for ballots for about a year or more, she added.
Mr. Blinken said no one had questioned the diplomats’ qualifications. « They’ve been blocked to leverage other unrelated issues. » He said replacements for vacant ambassadorial posts, such as officials with chargé d’affaires titles, did not have the same access and influence as ambassadors in foreign capitals.
A Senate Democrat aide said the number of blocked candidates who were cleared by the Foreign Relations Committee was even higher — a total of 50 — when a dozen envoys from bodies like the Organization were considered. World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
The aide noted that the vacancies put the United States at a disadvantage in global competition with China, which many Republicans call their top foreign policy priority. Beijing has ambassadors in dozens of foreign capitals where the United States lacks them, the aide said.
Mr. Blinken’s effort to spotlight the issue comes as Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville is single-handedly blocking the promotions of hundreds of high-ranking military officers. Mr. Tuberville is protesting Pentagon policies that grant American service members access to abortions.
During a daily briefing Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Mr. Tuberville’s takings amounted to an « attack on our national security. »
« Republican senators must speak up for our national security and military families, » he added.
Vance also announced last month that he would block all Biden Justice Department candidates following the department’s recent indictment against former President Donald J. Trump.
And he opposed the appointment of Stephanie Sanders Sullivan as Biden’s representative to the African Union on the grounds that she participated in what he called « a foreign policy of intimidation, moralization and lectures, » including on LGBTQ issues, such as diplomat in the Obama administration.
Other diplomatic candidates awaiting ballots include Biden’s picks for ambassador to Oman, a major diplomatic liaison between the United States and Iran; Georgia, a Russian neighbor where recent democratic advances are being rejected by an increasingly authoritarian government; and Djibouti, a strategically located East African nation where US officials compete with China.
Mr Blinken said long confirmation delays had discouraged talented diplomats from accepting assignments requiring confirmation « because they don’t want to put themselves or their families in this limbo ».
State Department candidates have been severely delayed for much of the Biden administration. In 2021, Mr. Cruz blocked dozens of key candidates protesting Mr. Biden’s decision to lift sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. Mr. Cruz now has far fewer such holds.