The Senate’s Ambassador Backlog Is Getting Ridiculous

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July 25 2014 4:57 PM

The Senate’s Ambassador Backlog Is Getting Ridiculous

BuzzFeed’s Rosie Gray reports that Sen. Ted Cruz is holding up all State Department appointees “until he has answers about the Federal Aviation Administration’s ban on U.S. carriers flying to Tel Aviv in the midst of the Gaza war, a ban that has since been lifted.”

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

This includes John Tefft, who was nominated as ambassador to Russia last month.* The U.S. had not had a permanent ambassador to Russia since Michael McFaul stepped down in February, and for obvious reasons, this is a time when there would ideally be an American representative in Moscow.

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But even before Cruz’s move, the ambassador backlog was becoming a problem.

More than 40 ambassador nominees are awaiting action by the Senate. These postings also include Qatar, one of the key countries in Middle East peace negotiations. The U.S. has also not had a representative on the council of the International Civil Aviation Organization during the last few brutal days for international air travel.

The slow confirmation process has been an issue for years now, but it’s been more acute since November when Democrats changed senate rules to require a simple majority vote for nominees. The Wall Street Journal explains:

Irate over the change, Republicans have largely stopped allowing the Senate to take procedural shortcuts that had enabled the chamber to breeze through blocs of nominees. Forced to move more slowly, Democrats focused first on the president's judicial nominees, in an effort lighten a burden on the court system.

In the meantime, the ambassadors languished.

John Kerry says the delay means that “we’re going without our strongest voice on the ground every day in more than 25 percent of the world.”

To be fair, the administration’s ability to take the moral high ground on this issue is somewhat undermined by its habit of appointing political backers to these posts, including an ambassador to Norway with seemingly no knowledge of the country’s political system and an ambassador to Hungary best known for producing The Bold and the Beautiful.

I mean no disrespect to Norway, but it’s safe to say that it’s not the end of the world if Ted Cruz holds up the campaign bundler appointed to our man in Oslo in order to make a political point.

Moscow and Doha, on the other hand …

*Correction, July 25, 2014: This post originally misspelled John Tefft’s last name.

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

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