Tags: global ambassadors | saudi arabia | russia | ukraine

Biden's Picks for Ambassador Posts Stalled

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden (AP)

By    |   Wednesday, 28 December 2022 02:41 PM EST

President Biden is entering his third year of presidency with more than two dozen ambassador slots vacant, including positions for India and Saudi Arabia.

The Biden administration is on track to have more top foreign representatives in place than former President Donald Trump did at this point, but fewer than presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Biden has nominated officials, but they have stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations had not held any hearing on ambassador nominees for nearly four months, from early August to late November. In the last few weeks, there has been a burst of activity with nearly two dozen candidates gaining approval, including ambassadors to Russia, Brazil, and the Czech Republic.

"We continue to seek the swift confirmation of a number of highly qualified nominees to fill crucial posts across the globe," said White House spokeswoman Olivia Dalton in an email.

The State Department has installed career officers from the department in an acting capacity during the vacancies.

"We've been dealing with ambassadorships being vacant for years at a time. That is dysfunction," said former Ambassador Eric Rubin, president of the American Foreign Service Association. Unlike an interim State Department official, the ambassador is "the personal representative of the president of the United States and he carries the president's authority," he said.

The ambassador to Saudi Arabia remains to be approved. The frayed relationship stems from the killing of a Washington Post columnist, which U.S. intelligence officials believe was done at the behest of the country's leader, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudis furthered the frustration by cutting oil production amid the global energy shortage.

Biden nominated Michael Ratney, a career foreign service official, to the post in April. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., placed a hold on the nomination, involving a senatorial prerogative slowing down the process. Wyden wants the Biden administration to develop a plan to prevent Saudi nationals from leaving the country after a Saudi national accused of killing a 15-year-old Oregonian in a hit-and-run fled the country.

"The State Department has not yet presented Sen. Wyden with any plan for addressing his concerns about either Saudi fugitives or adjusting its relationship with the Saudi regime," said Keith Chu, a Wyden spokesman.

Another big toss-up is over former Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He is Biden's pick for India. There hasn't been an ambassador there since January 2021.

Garcetti has been stalled amid concern that he ignored allegations that one of his top aides sexually harassed a subordinate. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations approved his nomination out of committee nearly a year ago in January. Any prospective ambassador who didn't get a vote in the current Congress is sworn in Jan. 3.

The Italy post also remains vacant. It was believed to be set aside for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi, said she "has no interest in the posting in Rome" and is focused on her San Francisco constituents.

Many had hoped Biden would have moved more swiftly on these vacancies, as he is a former chair of the Foreign Relations Panel.

"This entire process should be more straightforward, so it's not taking so much time to do it — and so the nominees are not in professional and personal limbo for years," said Valerie Smith Boyd, director of the Center for Presidential Transition at the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the length of time it takes various administrations to fill key posts.

Trump had 69 ambassadors confirmed by Dec. 26 of his second year, and Biden has 111, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Bush had 130, and Obama had 113 around this time.

The U.S. did not have a Ukrainian ambassador during the Russian invasion. Biden nominated veteran diplomat Bridget Brink. Furthermore, during the joint meeting of Congress last week, the Senate approved Lynne Tracy to serve as ambassador to Russia, succeeding departing Ambassador John Sullivan.

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President Biden is entering his third year of presidency with more than two dozen ambassador slots vacant, including India and Saudi Arabia.
global ambassadors, saudi arabia, russia, ukraine
Wednesday, 28 December 2022 02:41 PM
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