@SecPompeo Announces Withdrawal of All US Personnel From Venezuela, Also Who Needs the Next Curveball?


In a most worrisome development, Secretary Pompeo announced the withdrawal of all remaining  personnel from US Embassy Caracas in Venezuela. The announcement cites  the “deteriorating situation” and the staff’s presence becoming “a constraint on U.S. policy” as the reasons for the withdrawal.

When the secretary of state calls his own diplomats’ presence “a constraint” — as in a limitation, a hindrance, an impediment — on U.S. policy specific to a particular country, what does that tell you? That the talking is done? What comes after all talks are done, or in this case, after all tweets were sent?

And when the secretary of state announces the evacuation of all remaining personnel from the embassy, what signal is he sending Maduro? How will Maduro respond? We don’t know about you, but we’re worried; why announce this evacuation prior to it actually happening? What arrangements are being made for private Americans still in Venezuela?

Then there’s this, of course, which shows a willingness to assign blame because it was convenient and easy. This was also the week when #miltaryintervention was briefly trending on Twitter. It looks like that’s about to get loud again.


The Back Room Deals That Got Roberta Jacobson Confirmed to be Ambassador to Mexico

Posted: 9:22 am PT
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According to WaPo, it took weeks of complex backroom dealing involving two key senators, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, former rivals in the Republican presidential primaries to end their hold on the Jacobson nomination.

As part of the deal, the State Department will have to produce 40 new reports a year on issues as diverse as Hong Kong autonomy, religious freedom and anti-Semitism. Government officials in Venezuela will face three more years of sanctions.

Security upgrades at U.S. embassies around the world will be mandated, including in war-torn countries such as Syria and Yemen, where there is no U.S. diplomatic presence now. U.S. diplomats at the United Nations will have to work to end sexual abuse by U.N. peacekeepers. And there will be a new push in Congress to rename the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington for a prominent Chinese dissident.

Basically, the WH got a deal to get an ambassador to Mexico whose entire tenure will be shorter than the length of her 11-month confirmation wait. If she gets to Mexico this month, that will give the new ambassador barely six months to settle in Mexico City and just in time to cast her vote as an overseas voter in the 2017 presidential election. Like all presidential appointees, she will be obligated to tender her resignation on the golden hours between the election of a new president in November 2016 and when the new president is sworn into office in January 2017.

The resignations of career appointees to chiefs of mission positions are traditionally declined by the incoming administration whereas resignations of political and noncareer ambassadors are typically almost always accepted. Ms. Jacobson is a career civil servant at the State Department but is not a member of the career Foreign Service, and therefore considered a noncareer appointee. If there is a Trump WH — gosh, who knows how will ambassadorial appointments blow up —  in all likelihood, noncareer appointees will be replaced with Trump’s noncareer appointees.  If there is a Clinton WH, the new ambassador may be allowed to stay on like the rest of the career appointees already appointed worldwide but it’s worth noting that the Clinton world will definitely have a lengthy ambo wish list from supporters and bundlers.



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Senator With Serious Grrrrr Over Cuba Policy Picks On Obama’s Ambassador Nominee. For Mexico!

Posted: 3:53 am ET
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The Hill reported on April 26 that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blocked the Senate from moving forward with President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Mexico.

The Florida senator said he had questions about policies that nominee Roberta Jacobson has “pursued” in her current position as assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs.

Last year, Politico reported that the delays in her committee approval have “everything to do with the Cuban policy,” according to Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, ranking Democrat on the committee. “That’s not Roberta Jacobson. That’s the Obama policy.” See Mexican post held hostage over Cuba.  Her nomination had since cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but remains ensnared in the Senate.



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Senate Confirmations: Shannon, Egan, Raji, Heins, Estrada, McKean, and Marciel

Posted: 2:55  pm EDT
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After a long wait, State Department nominees who were snared in a senate hold by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) were finally confirmed in a voice vote today before Congress left for the Presidents Day break. The Senate will next convene at 3:00pm on Monday, February 22nd.

Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., of Virginia, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Ambassador, to be an Under Secretary of State (Political Affairs).

Brian Egan to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State

Azita Raji, of California, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Sweden.

Samuel D. Heins, of Minnesota, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Norway.

John L. Estrada, of Florida, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

David McKean, of Massachusetts, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Luxembourg.

Also confirmed is President Obama’s nominee Sunil Sabharwal to be U.S. Alternative Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Why did Senator Cruz relent and what did he get in exchange for lifting the hold?  Via Roll Call:

As the hold on the State Department nominees was lifted, Cruz managed to secure Senate passage, also by voice vote, of a measure to designate the area outside the new Chinese Embassy along Van Ness Street in Northwest D.C., as the “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.” That would honor the pro-democracy leader and longtime political prisoner.

On February 9, the U.S. Senate also confirmed  Scot Alan Marciel, of California, a Career Member of the Senior Foreign Service, Class of Career Minister, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Union of Burma.

Meanwhile, another presidential candidate and sitting senator continue his hold on President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Mexico over, you know, the most perfect excuse, Cuba:


Other confirmations:

2016-02-11 PN1085 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Virginia Lynn Bennett, and ending Susan M. Cleary, which 193 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on January 19, 2016.

2016-02-11 PN830 Foreign Service | Nominations beginning Christopher Alexander, and ending Tipten Troidl, which 28 nominations were received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on September 10, 2015.

2016-02-11 PN573-5 Foreign Service | Nomination for Christopher Nairn Steel, which nomination was received by the Senate and appeared in the Congressional Record on June 10, 2015.

For the Millennium Challenge Corporation

2016-02-11 PN1039 Millennium Challenge Corporation | Morton H. Halperin, of the District of Columbia, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation for a term of two years.

2016-02-11 PN1040 Millennium Challenge Corporation | Michael O. Johanns, of Nebraska, to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation for a term of three years.



Senate Finally Confirms Ambassador Aponte, and She Just Unpacked Her Household Effects!

On June 14, cloture was invoked on Executive Calendar #501, the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte, of the District of Columbia, to be Ambassador to the Republic of El Salvador, upon reconsideration, by a vote of 62-37.  The Senate subsequently confirmed the Aponte nomination by voice vote.

President Obama released a statement on the confirmation of Ambassador Aponte.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also issued this statement.

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Holy mother of goat and all her crazy nephews at the Senate!

The Senate thumbed down this nomination in December 2011 so when her recess appointment ran out, she left El Salvador in January 2012. Which probably meant she spent her holidays packing out. So then she got back to the U.S. and presumably had to wait weeks for her household effects to arrive from San Salvador. Then she had to spend weeks unpacking all the boxes and putting stuff away. And just as she was done with that, the Senate decided to confirm her. And so she’s going back to El Salvador. Which means, she’s going to be packing out again. And unpacking once she gets to San Salvador. And who knows what happens in November 2012?

What a wasteful group of people working for us in the more deliberative and more prestigious body in the Congress.  All that cost money, you guys! Couldn’t you have made up your mind in December and saved on shipping boxes and relocation expenses?

Ambassador Aponte’s nomination was previously held up by Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). DeMint was demanding more information about Aponte’s ancient boyfriend (see Ambassador Aponte’s Nomination “DeMinted” Over Old Boyfriend, LGBT Op-Ed, and [Fill in the Blank].  Marco Rubio apparently had some issues with WHA policies.

In the June 14 vote, Marco “if I do a good job as vice president” Rubio switched sides and voted for Ambassador Aponte’s confirmation.  Don’t know why.  Must be because the Rubio hold forced the Obama Administration to change its WHA policies.  Quit laughing, yep, that must be it.  Senators Lugar, McCain, Ayotte, Graham also voted for Aponte’s confirmation.  Senator DeMint got tired of holding the Senate hold (like the figure four leglock), so he and 36 other GOP senators voted against confirmation.

Would it be too much to ask for our Senators to cast their votes based on the qualifications of the nominees instead of a party line vote? After all, the person we’re sending out to represent us is out there representing the United States of America, not Blue America or Red America.

Ambassador Aponte has not changed in six months.  She’s still the same person with the same baggage of an old boyfriend, and her LGBT op-ed has not been rewritten to be more palatable.  So nothing has changed except the Senators’ minds and the games they play.

Domani Spero