A growing number of Senate Republicans are expressing deep concerns about the impact that Sen. Ted Cruz’s blockade on President Joe Biden‘s ambassador nominees is having around the world — and some are in discussions with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin to work around the Texas conservative.
Since Cruz is objecting to quick confirmation votes for dozens of nominees, it could eat up an enormous amount of floor time to go through the full parliamentary process before getting the ambassadors confirmed.
So instead, the senators are looking to ease passage by allowing the Senate to vote on a bloc of nominees at a time — potentially five at once. To change the rules under regular order, 67 senators would need to vote to make that happen. Or Democrats could try to change the rules along straight party lines — a controversial move called the “nuclear option” — but Manchin is opposed to such a partisan effort.
On Thursday, the West Virginia Democrat told CNN that he is open to changing the Senate rules — so long as Republicans are supportive of the effort — and suggested he’d back moving three to five nominees at a time.
“It’s wrong,” Manchin said when asked about the backlog in nominees.
And of a potential rules change, he said: “I think the Republicans would be in for that too.”
Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican from Utah who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s had some preliminary talks with Manchin — and is “willing to discuss” possible rules changes.
“We really do need to get our ambassadors in the various capitals around the world to promote American interests, particularly as China’s doing so very aggressively,” Romney said Thursday. “And I’d like to see that moved along if possible.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, said, “I’d like to see them move. We got problems all over the world. We need ambassadors.”
Capito added: “There’s no reason some of these agencies and ambassadors should have to wait so long.”
Fifty-four ambassador nominees have been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and are awaiting action by the full Senate.
Just nine nominees have been confirmed to their posts — some because of their past ties to the Senate — including former Sen. Jeff Flake as ambassador to Turkey; former Sen. Ken Salazar as ambassador to Mexico; former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand’s ambassador; Victoria Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, as ambassador to Austria; and Sen. John McCain’s widow, Cindy McCain, to serve as the US ambassador to the United Nations’ agencies for food and agriculture.
Some Republicans fault Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for not placing a bigger priority on confirming the nominees this year, given that he sets the floor schedule for the chamber. But many of the nominees are noncontroversial and would sail through by a voice vote if it weren’t for the Cruz blockade.
“What Joe’s been talking about is being able to facilitate a batch where you could put five together and vote them through en bloc,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat who’s a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Look, I’d rather have us follow regular order. But wow, do we have a backlog.”
Cruz for months has refused to allow quick confirmation votes on the nominations until the Biden administration reverses its policy on a major pipeline between Russia and European countries. The Texas Republican is angry that Biden softened the US opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was in place during the Trump administration. Cruz and other critics believe that the pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, would strengthen Russia and make Germany beholden — and energy reliant — to the autocratic country.
Cruz rejected concerns that his move to block ambassadors has made the US less safe.
“I think the national security implications of Biden’s surrender to Putin are massive, and it’s why Russian troops are massed along Ukraine,” Cruz told CNN on Thursday.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, also has held up other State Department officials over his concerns about the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
“If this was so pressing, why isn’t Sen. Schumer bringing these votes to the floor? He can do that,” Hawley said of the stalled nominees. “He’s the majority leader. We can’t block the votes. We can only say that we want regular order, which is what I’m doing.”
But the backlog in ambassadorships has started to unnerve other Republicans — from members of leadership to the rank and file — and a number are eager to see some of these nominees confirmed this month.
Sen. John Cornyn, a member of his party’s leadership and the senior Republican from Cruz’s state of Texas, said, “There’s some places that we need ambassadors,” citing countries like India, China, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan.
“I’d like to be able to clear some of those,” Cornyn said.
Asked about Cruz’s blockade, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican member of leadership who sits on Foreign Relations, said: “I think we need to make sure we get ambassadors in place.”
Manchin said he has had conversations with Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, to find a way forward. Blunt told CNN he isn’t looking for a rules change but wants to see some key posts confirmed before year’s end.
“I think we really need to have particularly an ambassador in China and Japan before we leave here this year,” Blunt said. “And I’d be glad to help find whatever votes they need to make that happen.”
Other members of the GOP leadership also expressed a desire to get the key posts filled quickly — and hope that a deal can be reached next week to ease their confirmation.
“There are some pretty key ones in areas in the world that we need American influence,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune. But the South Dakota Republican seemed leery about changing the Senate’s rules, instead hoping for a bipartisan deal.
“So I hope they can work something out,” Thune said. “It’s obviously every senator’s prerogative to slow things down. I mean ultimately if the administration wants to get them through, they can. They just got to grind through it.”
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