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.

 

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Senator Cruz Blocks @StateDept Nominees While on Campaign Trail

Posted: 2:19 am EDT
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Last week —

So that’s now the third time for the last several days and counting. Duck Dynasty commander and Senator Ted Cruz has pledged to block State Department nominees over the Iran nuclear deal. He had previously conveyed his threat to hold all State Department nominations over the Iran deal in July 2015 (see letter to POTUS here – PDF). He wants the oval office, we don’t think a duck gumbo would work here.

 

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From Oslo: Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending an ambassador

Posted: 3:37 am EDT
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Agenda Magasin, an online magazine for political analysis and commentary based in Oslo recently published, “Congress, send Norway an ambassador” by Thor Steinhovden. Below is an excerpt:

Norway has never gone this long without an American ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Oslo. Norwegians may now face the scary scenario of Donald Trump sending a representative, three years too late.
[…]
In September 2013 the American Ambassador to Norway, Barry White, completed his posting and left the country. 840 days later the United States has yet to send a replacement. That’s more than 120 weeks, or over two years and three months. Now, Norway risks having to wait until spring 2017. In other words, our closest ally will then have neglected to send a presidential representative for over three years.

The story behind this failure is complicated, but illustrates a political situation in the U.S. that is crippling the president’s ability to effectively carry out foreign policy. The story includes a failed nomination, “The Nuclear Option”, the P5+1 Iran deal, and not at least, the race for 2016.
[…]
For many Norwegians it probably seems both odd and incomprehensible that one of the world’s superpowers cannot manage such a simple task as to deploy an ambassador to a close ally like Norway. It becomes more incomprehensible when one considers the fact that the hold-up is not related to neither the candidate, nor the bilateral relationship.

If Donald Trump or Ted Cruz then occupy the White House, Norway may find itself welcoming a completely different character than Sam Heins. I believe most Norwegians agree with me that it is probably best for all of us if we avoid that scenario. It is time: Congress, send Norway an ambassador!

Read in full here.  A Norwegian-language version of this commentary is also available.

The article is a pretty good account of what happened to the nominations dating back to 2013 when the initial nominee melted down on C-SPAN.

We don’t know if the Heins nomination will  make it through the Senate, but even if it does get a full vote, and Mr. Heins gets to Oslo, this is an election year. There will be a new occupant in the White House come January 2017. All ambassadors –including Mr. Heins if he gets confirmed this year — resign their positions following a change in Administration. The resignations of career ambassadors are typically almost always refused, while those of political appointees are almost always accepted.  Which means, unless the nominations of political ambassadorships get confirmed soon, the window of opportunity is winding down. At some point, it becomes a waste of resources to pack and ship an ambassador designate’s household effects if he/she gets to serve as chief of mission for only a few months; that is, only to pack out again after the November 2016 elections.  Of course, it can be done, we just can’t recall an example, but would folks really subject themselves to such a relocation for a short-term ambassadorship? We’ll have to wait and see.

 

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Senator on Cruz hold over Norway nominee: 836 days since there was last a confirmed Ambassador to Norway

Posted: 1:01 am EDT
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The Hill reports:

Sen. Ted Cruz blocked a Democratic push to approve a handful of State Department nominees on Wednesday, even though the Texas Republican is far from D.C., campaigning in New Hampshire. […]  Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), however, objected to each of the nominations, noting that he was doing so on behalf of Cruz. The presidential candidate has pledged to block State Department nominees over the Iran nuclear deal. Cardin called Cruz’s objections a “master class in needless partisan obstruction.”

Last month, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) took to the floor to urge for the confirmation of the nominees for Sweden and Norway, but spoke at length on behalf of Sam Heins, the nominee to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway who hails from her state.

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I rise today to call on the Senate and all of my colleagues to allow us to move forward on the nomination of Sam Heins of Minnesota to be the U.S. Ambassador to Norway. The U.S. Ambassador for Sweden has also been held up. Coming from the State of Iowa, which I believe is over 10 percent Scandinavian–over 300,000 people–I think the Presiding Officer understands the importance of our country actually having Ambassadors to these incredibly important allies and nations.

It has now been 836 days since there was last a confirmed Ambassador to Norway, one of our most important European allies. Part of this situation was caused by a different nominee who has some issues with the committee and with other Senators. That person has now been replaced, and it has been 166 days since a new nominee went through the Foreign Relations Committee. Mr. Heins was approved by a voice vote, without any controversy, as was the Ambassador to Sweden. I thank Senators Corker and Cardin and Senators McConnell and Reid for their help in trying to get this through.

Unfortunately, these nominations are now being held up by Senator Cruz. Based on my discussions with him, it is not because of the qualifications of these nominees; it is related to, I suppose, other issues. Yet, I note for those Scandinavians out there, Senator Cruz has allowed votes on Ambassadors to other countries. We have Ambassadors in France, in England, in nearly every European nation, but not these two Scandinavian countries.

Perhaps people don’t understand the importance of these nations because they just think these people wear sweaters all the time. I don’t know what they think of Norway and Sweden, but, in fact, Senator Cruz should understand that they are two of our best allies. Norway is one of our country’s strongest and most dependable allies.
[…]
I am focusing today on Norway. I will focus on Sweden in the future as I continue to give these speeches. I don’t think we can take these countries lightly just because it is cold there and darker in the winter. These are incredibly important allies and trading partners. They deserve to be treated like other European nations. They deserve to have an ambassador from the United States of America.

It is time to end this delay and do the work the Senate is supposed to do. Let’s move ahead and work to confirm these qualified nominees to represent us abroad. One is a country in Europe that just bought 22 fighter planes from Lockheed Martin. If they had bought 22 fighter planes from the Presiding Officer’s State, I believe the Presiding Officer would have looked at the fact that if it is a noncontroversial nominee to a country that invests in the United States of America, that is an ambassador we need to get confirmed, and we would get this done.

Read in full here (PDF) from the Congressional Record.

 

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