The US Senate on Wednesday confirmed the first of President Joe Biden’s ambassadors to foreign capitals, approving his pick for Mexico, but a slew of other nominees were held up by Republicans.
The Senate, in a marathon session before an August recess, approved Ken Salazar, a folksy, Spanish-speaking former Democratic senator known for maintaining good relations with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Salazar’s confirmation, through a unanimous vote alongside other nominees, partly broke through a logjam set by Senator Ted Cruz, a prominent Republican and fierce critic of Biden.
Cruz has used procedural tactics to stall Biden’s nominees because he opposes the waiver of sanctions over Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline being built from Russia to Germany that the United States and Eastern European nations fear will embolden Moscow and weaken Ukraine.
The Biden administration shares the concerns but argues that the pipeline was nearly complete when it took office. It has instead reached an agreement with Germany that includes boosting support for Ukraine.
Senator Bob Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that Donald Trump’s administration had its first ambassador confirmed at day 62 while more than 200 days had passed for Biden.
“The effect of holding up all of these nominees is to kneecap American national security. Never ever before has a president had so few nominees confirmed to key national security posts than this president,” said another Democratic senator, Chris Murphy.
Speaking to reporters on August 2, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that more than 65 nominees were awaiting confirmation for “critical national security positions” and hoped for their approval before the recess. But the Senate adjourned until September 13.
The Senate previously confirmed Biden’s cabinet picks including the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
Nominees who are held up include Biden’s choices as the top US diplomats for East Asia, South Asia, Europe, Latin America and Africa.
Prominent Biden picks on whom the Senate has not acted include former senator Jeff Flake for Turkey and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti for India.
Biden has still not put forward names for a number of major ambassadorships including China and Japan.
Salazar, who has also served as interior secretary, will take charge of an often complicated relationship with Mexico’s leftist president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who forged an unexpected partnership with Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, a fervent critic of immigration.
In his confirmation hearing, Salazar said that he would work with Mexico to “secure our shared borders and create an orderly, safe and humane framework for migration” – a key political issue in the United States.