Hawley lifts hold on Biden's pick for NATO envoy, teeing up confirmation

Sen. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyMissouri Senate candidate says Congress members should go to jail if guilty of insider trading On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Schumer tees up doomed election reform vote MORE (R-Mo.) on Thursday said he would remove his objections against President BidenJoe BidenSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion The Fed has a clear mandate to mitigate climate risks Biden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' MORE’s pick for ambassador to NATO, lifting a key stumbling block in allowing her confirmation vote to proceed in the Senate.

Hawley had exercised a hold on Julianne Smith, requiring the majority leader to dedicate hours or days of floor time to force a recorded vote that could otherwise be achieved with a relatively quick voice vote.

An aide for Hawley said Smith could now receive a vote as early as Thursday. 

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Hawley said in a statement to The Hill that he lifted his hold following a letter sent by Smith to the senator pledging to press NATO allies to increase their defense spending.

“The two percent pledge made by NATO allies at Wales in 2014 is no longer sufficient. Today’s security environment is far worse than the one that confronted us in 2014, and our allies must increase defense spending accordingly. Julianne Smith recognizes that need and has committed to push our allies to beyond the Wales commitment,” Hawley said in the statement.

Politico first reported the move by Hawley.

The Missouri senator has holds on at least five other nominees, for multiple leadership positions in the State Department and one leadership position in the Department of Defense.

Hawley has called for the resignations of Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Coons opposes sending US troops to Ukraine: 'We would simply be sacrificing them' Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Russia meet during 'critical' point MORE, Secretary of Defense Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia GOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE and National Security Adviser Jake SullivanJake SullivanWicker: Biden comments on Ukraine caused 'distress' for both parties White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' Blinken stresses 'unshakable' US commitment to Ukraine in call with Russian counterpart MORE over their handling of the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan in exchange for lifting the holds.

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“I’m holding all leadership positions at the Department of Defense and the State Department and I intend to do so until there’s some accountability,” he told The Hill on Tuesday.

Having the U.S. Ambassador to NATO confirmed in the position is viewed as a national security imperative amid increasing Russian aggression — including Moscow’s buildup of troops on the border of Ukraine, concerns over maintaining delivery of natural gas, ongoing malicious cyber activity and the Kremlin’s support for Belarus’s illegitimate president Alexander Lukashenko and his campaign to destabilize Europe by funneling refugees from the Middle East over Poland’s border.

Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans are frustrated with the holds on Biden’s nominees. Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHillicon Valley — Senate panel advances major antitrust bill Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas) has a blanket hold on all of Biden’s State Department nominees over his opposition to the administration’s Russia policy.

This amounts to about 50 people and could potentially include Smith. But Cruz has lifted specific holds before and said he would not exercise a hold on Biden’s nominee for ambassador to China.

Cruz’s office did not immediately return a request for comment from The Hill.