‘America is Back?’ Biden Proves 95% Less Effective Than Trump in Getting Ambassador Picks Approved
18:04 GMT 12.08.2021 (Updated: 18:55 GMT 12.08.2021)
In his first television address to the nation as president in February, Joe Biden pledged to reassert US global leadership, boasting that “America is back” and that diplomacy was “back at the centre of our foreign policy” after years of alleged neglect of US alliances by his predecessor, Donald Trump.
Former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar was the first of President Biden’s picks to be approved for a national diplomatic posting by the US Senate on Wednesday, becoming the US ambassador to Mexico as over 80 slots remain unfilled, some 200+ days into the Democrat’s term.
American Foreign Service Association President Eric Rubin, a former US ambassador to Bulgaria, called the situation unprecedented, telling NPR on Thursday that “there’s no other country in the world…probably that has ever had 80 vacant ambassadorships at one time.”
“And while I’m quite sure it’s not intended to be a signal of disrespect or lack of commitment to engagement with other countries, it can come across that way after a point,” Rubin warned.
Biden marked his 200th day in office on Sunday, with his abysmal record on ambassadorships far outdoing predecessors including Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and even Donald Trump, whom Democrats and their allies lambasted for his "say what I feel" attitude and tendency to engage in frank, unadulterated Twitter diplomacy, which often left professional diplomats at the State Department petrified.
By his 200th day, Trump has 19 ambassadors confirmed, while Obama and Bush had 59 and 53 of the diplomatic postings filled by the time they reached the milestone, respectively.
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a Brookings Institution senior fellow tracking the nominations process, warned that there was “no question” that the delay involving Biden’s nominees “has to be affecting our diplomatic relations across the globe,” and called “the sluggish pace" of approvals "simply striking.”
10 August 2021, 05:55 GMT
Dennis Jett, a retired ambassador to Mozambique and Peru, also complained that among the ambassador appointees who have been announced, over half are campaign fundraisers waiting to be rewarded for their donations on the campaign trail. “If we were talking about selling the command of an aircraft carrier to a real estate developer, people would go absolutely ballistic because that would be a threat to national security,” Jett said.
Among the major campaign donors who have been picked for ambassadorships are Biden’s choices for ambassadorships in Argentina and Switzerland.
Together with Salazar, Linda Thomas-Greenfield is the only other major diplomatic posting by Biden to have been approved, becoming US ambassador to the United Nations in February. Over three dozen nominees have been announced or considered by the Senate, with another 67 positions remaining vacant, according to data by the Partnership for Public Service. In all, the tracking service says there are some 800 government positions from a total of about 1,200 that still require confirmation.
The administration has blamed Senate Republicans for the confirmations setbacks, pointing in particular to efforts by Texas Senator Ted Cruz to stall consideration of diplomatic nominations in July over President Biden’s move to waive sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Cruz used similar tactics in March to temporarily freeze the confirmation of Biden’s CIA pick after saying Biden wasn’t doing enough to put pressure on the energy project, which he said would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to “gain a stranglehold over Europe’s gas supplies.”
Some Republicans have shot back at the White House over its complaints, suggesting Biden’s unqualified nominees are the issue at hand.
The Biden administration formally weighed in on the matter on Wednesday, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters that while the president was “grateful for the important work the Senate did before recess by passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill…we are frustrated over the slow pace of confirmations, particularly for non-controversial nominees.”
“They have – a number of them have a lot of Republican support. So, what’s the holdup?” Psaki asked, stressing that “it’s important for us around the world to have qualified ambassadors who are confirmed by the Senate to lead our country and represent our country at this point in time.”
Until the posts are filled, the vacant posts are being staffed by acting ambassadors, most of them career diplomats.
6 June 2017, 19:09 GMT
Democratic lawmakers, anti-Trump Republicans and their allies in the media had a field day ridiculing Donald Trump over his failure to get his own diplomatic nominations through the Senate in 2017 and 2018, with the business mogul blasting his opponents for “taking forever” to approve his people and calling them “nothing but obstructionists.” Democratic Senate leaders blamed Trump at the time, with then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer suggesting in 2017 that the president’s nominees had “conflicts of interests and incomplete ethics agreements when they were named.”
In his first address to the nation as president in February, Biden promised that “America is back” and that “diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy.” However, in the months since, some US allies have since expressed skepticism over Biden’s claims, with European allies reportedly no longer seeing the US as a reliable or consistent partner, particularly given the prospect that "another Trump" may come along in four years’ time to replace Biden.