Blinken Calls Blockade of Diplomatic Nominees a National Security Risk

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called on the Senate to quickly confirm more than three dozen State Department nominees, charging that delaying tactics employed by Republican senators seeking leverage on unrelated issues were “undermining national security.”

Mr. Blinken’s comments reflect growing alarm in the Biden administration about Republican moves to block nominees across the government, including at the Defense Department and the Justice Department.

Mr. Blinken said that 38 presidential nominees for State Department posts had completed hearings and been approved by the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations but were being denied confirmation votes by the full Senate. Among them are would-be ambassadors to several countries where the United States has critical interests, including the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Jordan, as well as the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism.

Senate Republicans are using their parliamentary powers to stall broad categories of nominees, in a practice once considered beyond the pale that has become increasingly common.

Last month, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said he would hold up Senate action on all State Department nominees until the Biden administration provided him with documents related to the origins of the coronavirus, which he says leaked from a Chinese laboratory. Other Republican senators, including Ted Cruz of Texas and J.D. Vance of Ohio, have also blocked nominees for different reasons.

“These delays are undermining our national security,” Mr. Blinken told reporters during an unusual appearance at the State Department’s daily news media briefing. The overwhelming majority of the stalled State Department nominees are career diplomats, and more than a third have been awaiting votes for about a year or more, he added.

Mr. Blinken said that no one had questioned the diplomats’ qualifications. “They are being blocked for leverage on other unrelated issues.” He said that stand-ins for empty ambassador posts, like officials with the titles of chargé d’affaires, lacked the same access and influence as ambassadors in foreign capitals.

A Senate Democratic aide said the number of blocked nominees who have been cleared by the Foreign Relations Committee was even higher — totaling 50 — when a dozen envoys to bodies like the World Health Organization and the International Monetary Fund were considered. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

The aide noted that the vacancies put the United States at a disadvantage in its global competition with China, which many Republicans call their top foreign policy priority. Beijing has ambassadors in dozens of foreign capitals where the United States lacks them, the aide said.

Mr. Blinken’s effort to spotlight the issue comes as Senator Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, is single-handedly blocking the promotions of hundreds of high-ranking military officials. Mr. Tuberville is protesting Pentagon policies granting U.S. service members access to abortions.

At a daily briefing on Monday, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said that Mr. Tuberville’s holds amounted to an “attack on our national security.”

“Republican senators need to speak out on behalf of our national security and military families,” she added.

Mr. Vance also announced last month that he would block all of Mr. Biden’s Justice Department nominees as a result of the department’s recent indictment of former President Donald J. Trump.

And he has opposed the nomination of Stephanie Sanders Sullivan to be Mr. Biden’s representative to the African Union on the grounds that she participated in what he called “a foreign policy of hectoring, moralizing and lecturing,” including on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, as a diplomat in the Obama administration.

Other diplomatic nominees awaiting votes include Mr. Biden’s picks for ambassador to Oman, an important diplomatic intermediary between the United States and Iran; Georgia, a Russian neighbor where recent democratic advances are being rolled back by an increasingly authoritarian government; and Djibouti, a strategically located East African nation where U.S. officials have been competing with China.

Mr. Blinken said long confirmation delays discouraged talented diplomats from accepting posts requiring confirmation “because they don’t want to put themselves or their families through this limbo.”

State Department nominees have endured severe delays for much of the Biden administration. In 2021, Mr. Cruz placed holds on dozens of key nominees to protest Mr. Biden’s decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany. Mr. Cruz now has far fewer such holds.

Michael Crowley is a diplomatic correspondent in the Washington bureau. He joined The Times in 2019 as a White House correspondent in the Trump administration and has filed from dozens of countries. More about Michael Crowley

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