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Burns and Locke … confirmed!

Never let it be said that the Congress didn’t do anything this week. Somehow, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was able to confirm two major State Department nominees — Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Ambassador to China Gary Locke. Both Burns and Locke had been held up by GOP senators, who lifted ...

FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images
FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

Never let it be said that the Congress didn't do anything this week. Somehow, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was able to confirm two major State Department nominees -- Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Ambassador to China Gary Locke.

Both Burns and Locke had been held up by GOP senators, who lifted both sets of holds late last week. They were both confirmed by unanimous consent, which means there was no vote and no senators objected. Burns had been held up by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who was demanding that the administration make a decision on selling F-16 fighters to Taiwan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week promised Cornyn a decision by Oct. 1. Locke was being held up by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), three Hill sources confirmed. He's expected to head off to Beijing within two weeks.

So that's two confirmations done, but several more still left in limbo. For example, the Obama administration's nominee to replace Locke as commerce secretary, John Bryson, is being held up by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe is unhappy with Bryson's environmental record, and GOP senators are vowing to block his confirmation unless progress is made on a series of trade deals.

Never let it be said that the Congress didn’t do anything this week. Somehow, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) was able to confirm two major State Department nominees — Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Ambassador to China Gary Locke.

Both Burns and Locke had been held up by GOP senators, who lifted both sets of holds late last week. They were both confirmed by unanimous consent, which means there was no vote and no senators objected. Burns had been held up by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who was demanding that the administration make a decision on selling F-16 fighters to Taiwan. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week promised Cornyn a decision by Oct. 1. Locke was being held up by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), three Hill sources confirmed. He’s expected to head off to Beijing within two weeks.

So that’s two confirmations done, but several more still left in limbo. For example, the Obama administration’s nominee to replace Locke as commerce secretary, John Bryson, is being held up by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe is unhappy with Bryson’s environmental record, and GOP senators are vowing to block his confirmation unless progress is made on a series of trade deals.

We’re also told by two Hill sources that Obama’s nominee for deputy commerce secretary, Terry Garcia, is stalled due to a secret hold. That leaves Commerce’s third-ranking official in charge of the department for the foreseeable future. And who is that lucky official? General Counsel Cam Kerry, none other than the brother of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

The hold on David Shear as ambassador to Vietnam is another one that is really annoying the State Department. That nomination is being held up by Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), who are seeking action on behalf of constituents who face custody and adoption issues in Vietnam.

(UPDATE: A spokesman for Rubio e-mails that Rubio actually lifted his hold in mid-June)

Senators also received new hold bait on Tuesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) approved David Adams as assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs. Adams is well liked, but there are plenty of things GOP senators want from the legislative affairs bureau that could become the payoff for letting Adams go through.

At their business meeting, SFRC also approved the nominations of Earl Wayne as ambassador to Mexico and Derek Mitchell as the first-ever special envoy to Burma. We haven’t heard any objections to those two nominations … yet. But next week is the confirmation hearing for Wendy Sherman as undersecretary of state for political affairs, and once she is approved by SFRC, GOP senators will surely target her nomination.

Kerry also announced at the meeting that two long-serving SFRC staffers are leaving Capitol Hill this week: deputy staff director Doug Frantz and senior professional staff Ed Levine. Frantz came to SFRC in 2009 and after a long career as an award-winning journalist and managing editor of the Los Angeles Times. He’s written a number of highly acclaimed books and produced a "prescient analysis of corruption in the Afghan government that has had great impact on the thinking inside the Obama administration," Kerry said.

Levine started working at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence when that committee was formed in 1976, and later moved over to SFRC, where former chairman Joe Biden gave him the nickname "Fast Eddie."

Kerry said of Levine, "He played one of the behind-the-scenes critical roles in bringing the Cold War to a close and has helped stopped terrorists in getting their hands on nuclear weapons."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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