Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP

Sen. Ted Cruz Delays Dozens of President Joe Biden’s Ambassador Nominations, Stoking Feud Over National Security

Cruz has single-handedly delayed dozens of key State Department nominees in retaliation for a Biden decision to drop U.S. opposition to a Russian pipeline to Germany.

WASHINGTON — By this point in the Trump administration, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former U.S. senator from Texas, had been settled into her new Brussels-based post as NATO ambassador for several months. But Julianne Smith, nominated to succeed her by President Joe Biden in June, is still waiting in the wings for Senate confirmation.

The same goes for ambassador nominees for France, India and a number of other nations.

Why the holdup? U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has single-handedly delayed dozens of key Biden administration nominees, mostly concentrated in the State Department, in retaliation for a Biden decision to drop U.S. opposition to a Russian pipeline to Germany.

Cruz’s actions are raising alarms from Democrats and White House officials about national security concerns.

“The president’s weakness and incompetence is what’s creating a national security issue,” Cruz told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “When he gives a multibillion-dollar pipeline to Vladimir Putin, strengthening Russia and weakening Europe and our allies, it creates a national security issue.”

At issue for Cruz is the Russian pipeline called Nord Stream 2, which runs from Russia to Germany by way of an underground route under the Baltic Sea. Several times in the Trump administration — in 2017, 2019 and 2020 — Congress passed sanctions intended to block the pipeline.

In mid-July, Biden agreed to drop opposition to the pipeline, which was nearly complete, as a means to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Germany.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will compete with pipelines in Ukraine, a country that continues to surface in deeply partisan disputes in the U.S. Members of both parties expressed anger at Biden for the move, but it gave Republicans — whom Democrats accused during the Trump era of going easy on Russia — a way to reset that foreign policy conversation.

Cruz by himself cannot completely block a nomination. However, he can dramatically slow down the process. Traditionally, uncontroversial nominees are confirmed via unanimous consent by the Senate. But Cruz’s objection forces the Senate into time-consuming procedural votes for each of the nominees.

The Senate has so far confirmed only four of Biden’s U.S. ambassador nominees to foreign governments, according to information gathered by Senate Democratic leadership and shared with The Washington Post.

Cruz did signal that he would lift his hold on Nicholas Burns, whom Biden nominated to serve as ambassador to China, per Bloomberg.

The Partnership for Public Service, which tracks nominations, reports that there are slightly more Biden confirmations at this point than in the Trump era. But the group’s founder and president, Max Stier, said in an interview that confirmations in proportion to the full slate of nominations are moving much more slowly than four years ago.

Even so, Cruz is creating consternation inside of the Treasury Department, at the White House and in international circles.

“It is essential that the Senate confirm these highly qualified nominees who are ready to get to work helping families and small businesses recover from the pandemic, and who are critical to the department’s national security objectives of disrupting illicit finance and combatting terrorism,” U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson John Rizzo said in an email.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week the administration is “concerned about the obstruction of our nominees,” blaming Republicans. But she declined to single out Cruz when asked about the delays last week during a briefing with reporters.

“There have been unprecedented delays, obstruction, holds on qualified individuals from Republicans in the Senate,” she said. “So, I would say the blame is clear. It is frustrating.”

Stylistically, it’s a return to Cruz’s all-out opposition in the Obama era that frequently resulted in unpredictability in passing legislation and even a 2013 government shutdown.

In that instance, Cruz followed through on threats to push for a government shutdown if then-President Barack Obama insisted on funding his 2010 health care law. A government shutdown lasted 16 days. Republicans took a brief hit in polling, but Cruz emerged as a national figure with the GOP base ahead of his 2016 presidential campaign.

“This risks being hyperbolic, but it’s like negotiating with a terrorist,” U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut said about Cruz’s holds on nominees to The Washington Post. “He is not the secretary of state. The people of this country did not elect him or his party to represent us abroad. And what he’s asking for is to control American foreign policy.”

Stier said senators have long used holds as leverage for policy demands, but suggested it is a less-than-ideal approach to governance.

“It’s damaging,” he added. “Is Sen. Cruz unique? I don’t know if I can answer that question. There are other examples of other senators in this current setting who’ve held up nominees that are related to the department in which they’re going to work and sometimes not.”

But the political strategy comes with risks.

Stier pointed with alarm to the 9/11 Commission Report that stated that the government might have been able to fend off the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had more confirmed individuals been in place. Stier said that on that date, former President George W. Bush had 57% of nominees in place. On Sept. 11 this year, Biden had 26% of his nominees in place.

“This is real,” he said. “This is bad.”

Presidents prior to President Donald Trump had much easier paths to confirmation for their diplomats. But according to the Partnership for Public Service, the Senate slowed down the pace of confirmations when Trump took office. Republicans controlled the Senate then, but Democrats easily had the 40 votes needed to block a confirmation vote.

With Democrats trying to move nominations this time around, Republicans are exacting political payback in slowing down the Biden nominations.

When asked how he would handle being on the other side of a senator’s hold on nominations should he ever become president, Cruz defended his actions.

“It depends on what the basis for the hold was,” Cruz said. “In this instance, my holds are in place to pressure the administration to follow the law.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/27/ted-cruz-joe-biden-ambassador-nominations/. The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.