The Cable

As Senate Confirms More Career Diplomats, Fate of Obama’s Political Nominees Remains Uncertain

This post has been updated.  The lame-duck Senate confirmed 21 of Obama’s long-waiting diplomatic nominees this week but avoided voting on the president’s more controversial choices. With a majority of the career foreign service nominees approved to ship overseas, the question now becomes what will happen to more than a dozen more contentious candidates, several ...

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

This post has been updated. 

The lame-duck Senate confirmed 21 of Obama’s long-waiting diplomatic nominees this week but avoided voting on the president’s more controversial choices. With a majority of the career foreign service nominees approved to ship overseas, the question now becomes what will happen to more than a dozen more contentious candidates, several of whom have been waiting for more than a year.

The majority of these remaining candidates are "political nominees," meaning they were chosen in return for their generous campaign donations to Obama and other Democrats. The Senate decided Thursday that on Dec. 1 it will vote on two of these former donors — Noah Mamet and Colleen Bell. Obama’s choices for ambassadors to Argentina and to Hungary, respectively, both have been waiting for more than a year, but the decision to bring them up for a vote suggests that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thinks they will be confirmed.   

But it’s unclear what will happen with several other controversial choices. George Tsunis, for example, is still waiting after having been nominated in September 2013 to serve as ambassador to Norway without having ever set foot in the country. Not only Republicans but some leading Democrats opposed Tsunis’s nomination on the grounds that he wasn’t qualified after he bungled his confirmation hearing in June. Frank Rose, nominated as assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, has been waiting for nearly 500 days amid Republican complaints about the Obama administration’s nuclear policies.

If the Senate doesn’t get to these nominees before the end of this Congress in December, they will have to be renominated and go through committee again in a Republican-controlled body.

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. @jkdrennan

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