Senate confirms Biden’s first ambassador
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Biden’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 Schumer (D-N.Y.).
“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!”
This morning, the Senate confirmed Ken Salazar as U.S. ambassador to Mexico—President Biden’s first ambassador to be confirmed.
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! https://t.co/HvIVvm8GMS
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) August 11, 2021
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 Cruz (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 Putin 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 Menendez (D-N.J.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sought to quickly confirm in the early-morning session.
While Sen. Mike Lee (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.
“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 Psaki 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.