Gentry O. Smith was a cop in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, before joining the State Department nearly 25 years ago. There he served in numerous security posts in Asia, the Middle East, and the United States.
Thus, his appointment as head of the Diplomatic Security Service, which oversees the protection of everyone, from the Secretary of State to American diplomats around the world, seems like a natural fit.
Yet his April appointment, like many others made by President Biden for the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and elsewhere, remained stuck for months in Senate committees, where a few Republican lawmakers have blocked the approval.
Although appointments were blocked across the board, the State Department was hit the hardest: Monday night, more than six months after the start of the Biden administration, only one of the president’s ambassadorial choices had been approved, leaving nearly 50% of all embassies without their official top, according to the American Foreign Service Assn.
Democrats and administration officials are furious, saying the government’s understaffing has hurt US diplomacy abroad, national security at home and other areas of governance. GOP senators in some cases say they have serious objections to the candidate, but in most cases they use their power to demand political concessions.
The first among those blocking candidates is Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has held up to two dozen State Department appointees, demanding that Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken penalize all international companies and individuals involved in the construction of a Russian pipeline to Europe.
Blinken complained last week that 65 nominations were still awaiting a confirmation vote. Some of them, including Smith’s nomination, squeaked through the Senate approval process this week on the eve of the August Congressional recess after languishing for months.
âThese are positions critical to national security,â Blinken said, specifically mentioning Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, Smith’s designated post.
Others included senior officials in charge of various regions – assistant secretaries of state for Latin America, Europe and parts of Asia – as well as consular services at a time of massive backlogs in government. issuance of US passports and visas due to COVID. -19 pandemic. (Since Blinken spoke, the candidate for the post of assistant secretary of state for consular affairs was confirmed on Monday evening, and at least two regional secretaries and several ambassadors, mainly for African countries, have been inscribed on the order of busy Senate day Tuesday night.)
âThe American people need these services,â added Blinken. âThe American people need these incumbent candidates. “
Administration-wide Monday at midnight, according to congressional records, about a third of Biden’s nominations submitted to Senate committees had been confirmed. At the same time, in the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, at least two-thirds of each president’s nominations had been approved. For the Trump administration, which has made far fewer appointments, confirmations at this point were just under 45%.
Eric Rubin, who heads the American Foreign Service Assn., The union of diplomats, said the overall approval process for many agencies has been notoriously slow, but is particularly egregious for the State Department.
But he also says there is blame for everyone. The Senate approval was fraught with delays, but Biden was also slow to name many people. And this comes at a time of multiple global crises where âwe cannot afford to navigate,â he said.
“It harms national security, it harms national interests,” said Rubin, former ambassador to Bulgaria. âThe world doesn’t understand how we can be the only country in the world that fails to send ambassadors to our embassies abroad.
Senator Robert Menendez (DN.J.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which receives State Department nominations before sending them to the Senate as a whole, said he had “never nothing like “the recent rhythm of the hold-ups.
“It’s beyond pallor,” he said last week at another business meeting to review the nominations.
In a previous meeting, Menendez and Cruz entered what was almost a screaming match over what the Democrat described as the Republican’s delay tactic.
âSen. Cruz, this committee has a long history, which you blacken out, turning committee business into political gain,â Menendez said. âWe haven’t had a history of that.â
Cruz replied: âMr. President, what is this political objective? “
Menendez countered: âMaybe it is your presidential aspirations, I don’t know, but you turn to political goals, you have detained every candidate, every candidate. I have never seen this.
Cruz’s main demand is for Blinken to impose sanctions on the sponsors of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that Russia and Germany are building to transport Russian gas to Germany. The Trump administration sanctioned many builders, but construction continued.
Biden administration officials said the pipeline was 95% complete by the time they took office, making sanctions now unnecessary. In addition, they said, a new sanction risked alienating a key ally – Germany – with whom the Biden team wants to mend damaged relations under President Trump. The administration has granted waivers of many of the sanctions imposed by Trump, essentially lifting the measures, a move that infuriated Cruz and other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Cruz defends his decision to block the appointments as a means of pressure on the administration. In a recent interview with Politico, he compared the authorization to build Nord Stream 2 to the âhistoric mistakeâ of President Carter’s 1977 deal to relinquish US control of the Panama Canal.
“Sen. Cruz will use all the levers and prerogatives he has as a US Senator to get the Biden administration to uphold the law and implement the mandates of Congress to sanction and stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.” Cruz’s press secretary Dave Vasquez told The Times.
Although Cruz is responsible for most of the heists, he’s not the only lawmaker messing up Biden’s plans. Some have delayed nominations in protest over unrelated issues, others out of concern over nominees’ records.
Republican Senator Jim Risch of Idaho briefly withheld at the committee level the appointment of Christopher Lu, a lawyer and former Department of Labor official, appointed United Nations Ambassador for Management and Reform, deeming him too lenient to the government. ‘UN.
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Under congressional rules, minority party members cannot permanently or indefinitely suspend candidates, but can significantly slow down the approval process by postponing candidates to subsequent business meetings or failing to show up. so that there is no quorum and that a vote cannot be taken.
Committee chairs can bypass holds and push candidates for the full Senate, which Menendez did last week to move around 20 appointments to the State Department. In the full Senate, however, any member can demand a period of 30 hours. debate on each candidate.
White House officials say that so far, once the blocked nominations have reached the full Senate, most have been approved by an overwhelming majority, proof that the block is more political than substantial.
It took three months for Jen Easterly, an intelligence official and former Army Lt. Col., to be approved as the head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the cybersecurity division of Homeland Security,
His appointment was delayed by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Who said he was protesting Biden’s policies on the US border with Mexico. Finally, on July 12, the Senate unanimously confirmed his appointment – after the United States suffered a major cyberattack reportedly coming from Russia.
“These are reasons unrelated to expertise and qualifications,” said one person involved in the process of the remains. The official asked not to be identified to discuss internal procedures. âIt’s politics.