Politico

Josh Hawley blocks confirmation of several State Dept. nominees


Sen. Josh Hawley on Tuesday blocked swift confirmation of several State Department nominees, in a continuation of the unprecedented GOP-led campaign to slow-walk most of President Joe Biden’s picks for top foreign policy posts.

The Missouri Republican, who has previously said he would hold up Biden’s national security nominees over his misgivings about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, objected to eight of the nine nominations that Democrats sought to unanimously approve on Tuesday, saying he was doing so on behalf of himself as well as some of his GOP colleagues who had separate objections.

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has gone to the Senate floor on a near-weekly basis to seek quick approval of the president’s nominees to top State Department posts, including one to represent the U.S. in foreign countries.

Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have dramatically slowed down the process of installing those individuals in their positions, drawing ire from Democrats, Biden’s State Department, European allies and even some Republicans. (Cruz’s blockade stems from his push for Biden to impose mandatory sanctions on a Russian gas pipeline that critics say will boost Moscow’s leverage in Europe.)

A visibly angry Menendez and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lambasted Hawley during floor speeches on Tuesday evening as Hawley was running down the list and objecting to the nominees one by one. They accused Republicans of jeopardizing U.S. national security and constraining the State Department as it tries to address major foreign policy challenges, including the refugee crisis stemming from the Afghanistan withdrawal.

“I have heard a lot about the handling of the situation in Afghanistan, but my colleagues refuse to allow the Senate to vote on nominees who are critical to dealing with the refugee situation resulting from that withdrawal and the much-needed stabilization efforts,” Menendez said.

Hawley noted that Schumer has the power to put all of them up for votes, and that Republicans can’t permanently block them. But the Senate has traditionally confirmed noncontroversial State Department and Pentagon nominees by unanimous consent, a process that doesn’t require the Senate to use valuable floor time. Many of the nominees were voted out of the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees with broad bipartisan support.

If Hawley and his colleagues do not relent, Schumer will be forced to schedule floor votes for each nomination — a practice Democrats are hoping to avoid, especially as they wrap up negotiations surrounding their massive social spending bill and move to pass the already-delayed annual defense policy bill.

Schumer has already threatened to keep the Senate in session for late nights and weekends to process the nominees that Hawley and Cruz are blocking.

The nominations Hawley blocked on Tuesday include Biden’s picks to be ambassador to Israel, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He also objected to a slew of top State Department nominees, including those for the bureaus of International Organization Affairs and Population, Refugees, and Migration.

Hawley did, however, allow one nominee to be confirmed unanimously — David Cohen, Biden’s pick to be ambassador to Canada.

But Cohen is just the fifth Biden-nominated ambassador to be confirmed by the Senate, on top of the ambassadors to Turkey, New Zealand, Mexico and Austria. By this point in Donald Trump’s presidency, the Senate had already confirmed 32 ambassador nominees by voice vote.

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