Senate confirms Biden's first ambassador

Senate confirms Biden's first ambassador
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The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President BidenJoe BidenPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy  Vilsack accuses China of breaking commitments in Trump-era trade deal MORE’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Mexico, the first ambassador confirmed amid an unorthodox stranglehold on dozens of State Department nominees by Republican lawmakers.

Former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) was confirmed in a voice vote by the Senate early Wednesday morning as senators worked through the night to move forward on passing a $3.5 trillion infrastructure spending bill. 

“This morning, the Senate confirmed Ken Salazar as U.S. ambassador to Mexico—President Biden’s first ambassador to be confirmed,” tweeted Senate Majority Leader Chuck SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats calls on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.). 

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“He will work to strengthen our relationship with our southern neighbor. And he's only the third Mexican-American and fourth Hispanic to hold the post!”

 

Salazar’s confirmation moved along at a relatively quick pace since his nomination was first announced in June, but dozens of the president’s nominees for top positions within the State Department have been held up over opposition from Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine On The Money — Ban on stock trading for Congress gains steam MORE (R-Texas). 

While Cruz never held a hold on Salazar, the Texas lawmaker is blocking confirmation votes for dozens of State Department nominees as part of a pressure campaign on the Biden administration over their refusal to impose sanctions on a Russian pipeline headed for Europe.

The Biden administration announced last month that it would withhold congressionally mandated sanctions on the pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, in an effort to preserve relations with Germany, which supports the project.  

“Joe Biden is giving [Russian President] Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinIran announces naval drills with Russia, China Blinken calls for 'global action' against Russia amid Ukraine tensions Putin's options extend well beyond invasion MORE a multibillion-dollar gift,” Cruz said on the Senate floor. He called the pipeline “a generational geopolitical mistake, because it strengthens Russia at the expense of America and it undermines U.S. national security interests.” 

Cruz, early Wednesday morning, argued that he was amenable to discussions with colleagues to lift holds but was intent on using his leverage over the pipeline, objecting to nearly 30 State Department nominees that Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezDems block Cruz's Nord Stream 2 sanctions bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Differences remain between NATO, Russia Senate Democrats unveil bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBiden huddles with group of senators on Ukraine-Russia tensions Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Senators to meet with Ukraine president to reaffirm US support MORE (D-Conn.) sought to quickly confirm in the early-morning session.  

While Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary Juan Williams: The GOP is an anti-America party MORE (R-Utah) objected to a vote on Biden’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Brian Nichols, Murphy accused Cruz of threatening U.S. national security over his multiple holds on nominees. 

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“It’s 4:40am and my work isn’t done yet. @SenatorMenendez and I are on the Senate floor and about to try to break the @tedcruz blockade of all of Biden’s national security nominees. The safety of our nation is at risk if this obstruction continues,” Murphy tweeted. 

Cruz’s holds have frustrated Democrats, the State Department and White House. Last month, Schumer was forced to invoke a days-long procedure to move forward the confirmation of Bonnie Jenkins as assistant secretary for arms control and international security affairs because of Cruz’s hold.  

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiZelensky says 'there are no minor incursions' after Biden's comments on Ukraine, Russia The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Connected Commerce Council - Dems regroup as Biden agenda stumbles Biden clarifies any Russian movement into Ukraine 'is an invasion' MORE told reporters on Wednesday that officials are frustrated by the slow pace of confirmations for ambassadorships and other positions. 

"We are frustrated by the slow pace of confirmations, particularly for non-controversial nominees," Psaki said, noting that Biden's nominees are highly qualified and some have Republican support. "So what is the hold up?"

Psaki said it is important to have qualified, Senate-confirmed ambassadors representing the U.S. around the world. She said that Biden has put forth nearly 275 nominees who are currently pending confirmation.

Morgan Chalfant contributed to this report.