The Cable

McFaul confirmed, but not Aponte or Bryza

On Saturday, senators finally confirmed Mike McFaul as ambassador to Russia, but then left town without confirming President Barack Obama‘s nominees for top diplomatic posts in El Salvador and Azerbaijan. McFaul had been the subject of objections by five GOP senators, whose concerns were assuaged in the days leading up to his confirmation on Saturday ...

On Saturday, senators finally confirmed Mike McFaul as ambassador to Russia, but then left town without confirming President Barack Obama‘s nominees for top diplomatic posts in El Salvador and Azerbaijan.

McFaul had been the subject of objections by five GOP senators, whose concerns were assuaged in the days leading up to his confirmation on Saturday by voice vote. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) was satisfied by administration promises not to share classified missile defense data with Russia without congressional consultation. Sen. James Risch (R-ID) lifted his hold after McFaul showed Risch’s staff a draft of the U.S.-Russia Defense Technology Cooperation Agreement (DTCA). Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) lifted his objection following the acquiescence of Kirk and Risch. And Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) lifted his hold when the omnibus spending bill passed with full funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

The last holdout was Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who had threatened to hold all State Department nominees until State designates the Pakistan-based Haqqani network as a foreign terrorist organization. On Saturday, the Senate passed Burr’s bill requiring the State Department to report on the issue within 60 days.

"The Haqqanis are a violent extremist group who have perpetrated deadly attacks on U.S. forces and innocent Afghan civilians, used murder as an intimidation tactic against the Afghan people, and employed suicide attacks with deadly effectiveness," Burr said in a statement.  "They are an extremely dangerous group, and they deserve to be classified as a terrorist organization. Designating them as terrorists would allow us to more aggressively pursue them as well as limit the ability of foreign governments to provide them with aid and assistance."  

The Senate also confirmed Joyce Barr as assistant secretary of state for administration. But several other State Department nominees that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) tried to move this weekend were not confirmed. Because senators are unlikely to come back to Washington this year, the following nominees will probably hang in limbo until at least late January:

Michael A. Hammer — to be assistant secretary of state for public affairs.
Mari Carmen Aponte — to be ambassador to El Salvador.
Adam E. Namm — to be ambassador to Ecuador.
Roberta S. Jacobson — to be an assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs
Elizabeth M. Cousens — to be U.S. representative on the U.N. Economic and Social Council

Reid didn’t try to move the nomination of Matthew Bryza to be ambassador to Azerbaijan. Bryza and Aponte are currently serving under recess appointments that expire at the end of the year. Both will have to return to Washington by Jan. 1, leaving their embassies without a sitting ambassador.

The Senate will continue in pro-forma session throughout the winter break, so Obama will not be able to make any recess appointments.  It appears extremely unlikely the senate will return to vote again on a payroll tax holiday extension. There is a slight chance that nominees could be confirmed through the "hotline" process, which puts confirmations on the Senate calendar if there are no objections. But that scenario is unlikely, especially for Aponte and Bryza, who face opposition from DeMint and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), respectively.

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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