Republicans Block Many Ambassador Nominations in ‘Nuclear Option’ Fallout (Updated)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted July 31, 2014 at 10:33pm

Updated 11:07 p.m. | The Senate may not be confirming nominees to posts in a slew of countries before departing for the August recess, but after some  procedural maneuvering, the U.S. will be getting a top diplomat in Russia.  

Senators confirmed the nomination of John F. Tefft by voice vote as the chamber finished evening business after he faced objection to confirmation by unanimous consent earlier in the night.  

The Senate’s nuclear fallout continued as the chamber worked into the night leading up until the break that will see no roll call votes until September 8. Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez faced a GOP objection to confirming a batch of 25 career foreign service officers to various ambassadorships, including President Barack Obama’s choice of Todd D. Robinson for the top diplomatic post in Guatemala, one of the key countries in the current crisis involving unaccompanied minors at the Southwest border.  

Perhaps most ironically, the batch of nominees not confirmed includes Adam M. Scheinman, Obama’s pick to be Special Representative of the President for Nuclear Nonproliferation, foiled by a nuke of a different kind — the one that led to elimination of the supermajority needed to end filibusters of most nominees.  

The news won’t sit well in the administration. Secretary of State John Kerry went public with pleas for confirmation  of State Department officials.  

Menedez also made separate requests to confirm U.S. ambassadors to Russia and South Korea. At that point, the nomination for the post in Russia didn’t move. The nominee for South Korea, Mark Lippert, is a political appointee, but Tefft is a career foreign service officer.  

Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., objected to the various requests from the New Jersey Democrat, referring to last November’s move by Senate Democrats to effectively change the rules using the “nuclear option.”  

“We used to pass ambassadors and all kinds of people en bloc like that, but we have this nuclear option now that the majority chose so it takes a little longer to do that whole process, and on that basis, I object,” Enzi said.  

“The criteria for confirming nominees should not be determined by a sudden, just-breaking crisis with the urgent need to fill a vacant post,” Menendez said. “Confirmation by crisis is not a strategy, and it is not in the national security interests of the United States.”  

“You know, I don’t know about nuclear options. I do know about national security,” Menendez said, adding that he had pulled out a list of only career nominees, rather than including political nominees.  

Enzi expanded on his objections after Menendez made a second try at the Robinson nomination.  

“The majority leader … hasn’t chosen to bring these up in the normal order,” Enzi said. “Instead, asking to bring them up en bloc. my college roommate was a career ambassador, and I helped him get assignments and brought a lot of people through en bloc at the same time. But that was before we did the nuclear option.”  

To be sure, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could file cloture to limit debate on any of these or the slew of other nominations pending at the arrival of recess. However, that move would require having senators remain in town in August or burn through limited time in September.