Washington (CNN) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday will urge the Senate to quickly advance the dozens of State Department nominees that remain pending due to holds put into place by Republican senators, a State Department official told CNN.
Blinken’s push for the nominees to move forward comes as Republicans in the Senate have been obstructing key national security posts across multiple agencies, and amid a partisan fight over the annual military spending budget.
According to the State Department official, the agency currently has 61 nominees outstanding with the Senate, including 38 ambassadorial nominees awaiting confirmation for posts around the world.
The top US diplomat will send a letter to the Senate “asking for them to move forward with State Department nominees with alacrity,” and Blinken will address the press on Monday to underscore how the holds “are hurting national security,” the official said.
The State Department official said that all but three of the 38 ambassadorial nominees awaiting a floor vote are career foreign service officers, and “some have been waiting over 18 months for confirmation.”
“This summer, for the first time ever, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon will have no confirmed U.S. ambassadors, and we remain without ambassadors for the African Union, UAE, Rwanda, Somalia, and Haiti,” the official said.
Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has put a hold on all State Department nominees, demanding that the agency turn over further information related the origins of Covid-19. Paul put his hold into place in early June, demanding the US government’s Covid-19 research records and citing concerns that those projects could be linked to the origin of the pandemic.
“Regardless of if the majority likes it, the committee will only return to expedited procedure when the chairman signs document requests with Dr. Paul, who is simply trying to access Covid-19 documents being held by various government agencies that are under the jurisdiction of the foreign relations committee,” a spokesperson for Paul said.
State Department spokesperson Matt Miller told CNN that the agency has “cooperated extensively with Senator Paul by providing him documents and other information, but he still continues to block all State Department nominees, the vast majority of whom are foreign services officers, from filling critical national security posts.”
“When we don’t have an ambassador in place, our adversaries fill the void, and in too many places around the world, we don’t have an ambassador today because Senator Paul is blocking confirmation for reasons that have nothing to do with the nominee’s qualifications,” Miller said.
Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio is also an impediment to the diplomatic corps getting out into the field, in addition to blocking all Justice Department nominees except US marshals.
Vance has put a hold on multiple State Department nominees, including the nominee to serve as the Representative to the African Union, citing concerns that she has pushed a “woke” ideology instead of pushing ahead America’s national interests.
“We have built a foreign policy of hectoring, moralizing and lecturing countries that don’t want anything to do with it. The Chinese have a foreign policy of building roads and bridges and feeding poor people,” Vance said on the Senate floor in April when he announced his hold on her nomination.
But his office did not detail how many total holds he currently has in place or the specific reason for each of the holds.
At the Defense Department, hundreds of senior military officers, including high-profile roles like the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commandant of the Marine Corps, have been impacted by Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s hold due to his opposition to the Defense Department’s reproductive policies.
With the holds in place, the time that it takes to confirm a nominee becomes drastically longer, which requires Senate Democratic leadership to use up floor time.
“So far this year, we’ve only had one Department of State nominee confirmed through unanimous consent, and in this Congress, only five State Department nominees have been confirmed,” the State Department official said, noting that “in previous administrations, most career, nonpartisan nominees would receive agreement to advance via unanimous consent within short order.”
“This allowed career public servants to receive confirmation and get to their embassies and conduct U.S. foreign policy on behalf of the American people without delay,” the official said.
Bipartisan frustration over Paul’s hold was apparent at a business meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early June, when the Kentucky senator, who is a member of the committee, accused Democratic Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez of obstructing the desired information.
“When we talk about meeting the China challenge, China has more embassies, consulates, and ambassadors throughout the world than we do. That is not acceptable. We can do a lot better. So, I hope we can vigorously move other nominations expeditiously,” Menendez said, according to a transcript of the meeting.
“These holds on ambassadors and the time that we all take to confirm ambassadors is very harmful to our country,” Republican Sen. Mitt Romney said, while calling on Menendez to “just give him the data, for Pete’s sake.”
“My goodness, the president has been president now for some years, alright, and we cannot get – we need ambassadors,” Romney said. “And even if they are not perfect, we need ambassadors. So let us get them through, and the holds that we put on, just in my opinion, the hold has got to be resolved on a timely basis and then move on to a vote. We have got to get ambassadors throughout the world, and we cannot vote on them one by one on the Senate floor.”
The American Foreign Service Association, which serves as the union for foreign service officers, said in a statement that it “believes it is essential to have confirmed ambassadors at all of our embassies and confirmed senior officials in all of our agencies.”
“We hope that all career nominees will move forward in the process quickly. Our country needs their service and experience,” the statement said.
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