If you watch only Fox News, you might believe that President Joe Biden is responsible for “a lack of response” to the crisis in Israel because he is also responsible for “lack of Senate-confirmed elected [sic] officials.” What the talking head reading from what appears to be a Foreign Policy article meant was Senate-confirmed embassy officials in the Middle East.
From the article: “At the time of the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, Washington’s closest ally in the Middle East, the United States had no confirmed ambassadors to Israel, Egypt, Oman, or Kuwait.” The story goes on to point out that the counterterrorism envoy position and human rights envoy position as well as the top job at the U.S. Agency for International Development are unfilled. What the article also points out, and the Fox News talker ignores, is that these vacancies are “due to a nearly broken Senate confirmation process, where nominees have languished in limbo for months or even years due to the ‘new normal’ practice of Republican senators placing sweeping holds on all nominees for different agencies over policy disputes with the administration.”
In fact, Biden has nominated ambassador candidates for Israel, Egypt, Oman, and Kuwait. He has also named candidates for the State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the assistant administrator for the Middle East at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Some of these nominations date back to July 2021, and have been held in limbo all these months thanks to Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Rand Paul of Kentucky. All three have each placed sweeping and overlapping holds on State Department nominees.
Cruz has been holding up Elizabeth Richard’s counterterrorism confirmation, as well as threatening the nomination of Jack Lew to the Israel post. “Sen. Cruz has said since the summer that it was becoming impossible to expeditiously advance Biden administration nominees because those nominees keep lying to Congress and the American people, testifying publicly that they are committed to countering Iran and deepening the U.S.-Israel relationship then implementing the opposite policies in secret once confirmed,” a Cruz spokesperson told Politico. “He will evaluate Lew’s nomination against the backdrop of those concerns.” In other words: Even after the Hamas attack on Israel, Cruz is still reserving the right to delay Lew’s confirmation.
Vance has been obnoxiously placing holds on a number of nominations because he believes the State Department is too “woke,” and over the summer sent out a “wokeness” questionnaire to nominees to determine who he might lift his holds from. Vance has also been holding Justice Department nominees since the summer. Meanwhile, Paul had a two-year blanket hold on all State nominees until he got all the documents the department had on the origins of COVID-19. He was finally mollified this summer, and a number of nominees were confirmed.
In fact, in July, Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote to the Senate stressing exactly what the Fox News gabber talked about Tuesday, calling for the senators with holds to “reconsider or work with the Department to find a reasonable and expedited path forward.” He asked the rest of the senators who weren’t putting holds on nominees to “talk to your colleagues who are.”
A State Department official told CNN at the time of Blinken’s letter how dangerous these holds are, pointing out that “for the first time ever, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon” simultaneously “have no confirmed U.S. ambassadors.”
That’s on top of the ongoing hold Sen. Tommy Tuberville, an Alabama Republican, has on almost all Department of Defense nominees and promotions. He’s showing no inclination to end his tantrum—begun over the Pentagon’s policy of allowing paid leave for military personnel to travel out of state for abortion care—even in light of the heightened state of international crisis in Israel.
The hundreds of holds from Tuberville alone, combined with dozens from Cruz, Paul, and Vance, would take weeks (if not months) to work through on an individual nominee basis. The Senate would be able to do little other work if they had to consider the nominations and promotions one at a time. The affected agencies and departments are having to work both under acting heads who don’t have the full weight of authority a confirmation brings, and under a cloud of uncertainty. It’s a situation our adversaries relish.
“People abroad see it as a sign of dysfunction, ineffectiveness, inability to put national interests over political ones,” Blinken said in his letter to the Senate. That means these few Republican nihilists are undermining our nation’s ability to respond to this crisis. It is further proof that Republicans pose a danger to our national security and that of our allies.
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