WASHINGTON — The arrival of a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico is usually a routine event. But for the Biden administration, it was a notable victory.
With the Senate’s Aug. 11 confirmation vote, former Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado became the first Biden ambassador to arrive in a foreign capital. And, as of now, the last.
A bitter fight with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, over a Russian gas pipeline has created what Biden officials call a personnel crisis, with Cruz delaying dozens of State Department nominees, including 59 would-be ambassadors, and vowing to block dozens more.
While Cruz cannot entirely block Biden’s State Department nominees, he has greatly slowed the process by objecting to the Senate’s traditional practice of confirming uncontroversial nominees by “unanimous consent.” His tactic means that each nominee requires hours of Senate floor time while other major priorities, including President Joe Biden’s domestic spending agenda, compete for attention.
Only a dozen of Biden’s State Department nominees have been cleared for a full Senate vote by the committee — in part, Democrats say, because Republicans on the committee are doing their own foot-dragging. Dozens more are expected to be ready for confirmation soon.
Cruz and his allies insist he is taking a principled stand on Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany that has long been an issue of high interest for him.
In mid-May, Biden waived congressionally imposed sanctions on the project. Critics say the deal will provide President Vladimir Putin of Russia leverage over European energy security and deal a blow to Washington’s ally Ukraine, which operates a competing pipeline. But the project is a boon for Germany, and Biden — pleading that the project was nearly complete and virtually impossible to stop — decided to prioritize relations with Germany, a key European ally, rather than risk a battle with Chancellor Angela Merkel and her soon-to-be successor.
Democrats say that even if Cruz is motivated by principle, his reaction is reckless — and wildly out of proportion.
“We can give him the benefit of the doubt that his goal is to micromanage U.S. foreign policy,” said Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn. and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.
“This is not about his objection to Nord Stream 2. This is to get a lot of eyeballs from a fight with President Biden,” Murphy said.