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On Tuesday, the Senate approved four new US ambassadors, something that typically would not pass for breaking news in Washington, DC. But before this week, only 2 of Joe Biden’s 69 ambassador picks had been confirmed, making his diplomatic corps substantially smaller than his predecessors’ at this point in their first term.
Few ambassador nominations are controversial, and the Senate can usually vote them through easily. But this year, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has held up the nominees over a disagreement with Biden’s handling of a Russian gas pipeline in Europe. Instead of permitting senators to vote quickly, which requires unanimous approval, Cruz has made it so each pick requires hours of debate, stopping the Senate from doing other business.
“I’ve made clear to every State Department official, to every State Department nominee, that I will place holds on these nominees unless and until the Biden administration follows the law and stops this pipeline,” he said in August on the Senate floor.
The four nominees to pass Cruz’s blockade on Tuesday were all either former senators (Jeff Flake, Tom Udall) or spouses of former senators (Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Cindy McCain). Cruz, whose office did not return Mother Jones’ request for comment, told Washington Post reporter Seung Min Kim he permitted them to go through out of senatorial courtesy.
Even with those ambassadors in place, the United States still only has four chief diplomats in foreign capitals—the other two picks are stationed at the United Nations. Such a small lineup of ambassadors is not only a historical anomaly—George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump all had at least 20 Senate-confirmed ambassadors by this point in their presidencies—but a serious obstacle to the Biden administration’s ability to conduct diplomacy.