Shadow Government

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Biden Is Too Slow on Nominations

His failure to tap ambassadors to key posts “sends the wrong message.”

By , a U.S. senator from Idaho and the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the 90th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the 90th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the 90th Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A lot of ink has been spilled and many speeches offered about the plight of President Joe Biden’s nominees. We hear claims of unjustified delay, bias, and unfairness and accusations about the challenges such delays present to U.S. national security. The fact is, there are serious policy and basic oversight questions at stake, and these arguments sidestep the thoughtful conversations we should be having in order to score political points.

My policy on nominations is no secret. I believe an executive should be able to pick his team and have them in action sooner rather than later. As the governor of Idaho, I learned firsthand that having my people in place was critical to serving Idahoans and accomplishing my objectives, and I selected people for my cabinet that represented me and the interests of Idaho.

Many of Biden’s nominees have been delayed because of a very serious policy fight regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Congress, on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, has passed multiple laws regarding this pipeline and sanctions on Russia regarding its construction and certification. My colleagues and I have repeatedly asked for the legal justifications behind why the laws are not being implemented as they were written. The administration has failed to provide an appropriate legal justification.

A lot of ink has been spilled and many speeches offered about the plight of President Joe Biden’s nominees. We hear claims of unjustified delay, bias, and unfairness and accusations about the challenges such delays present to U.S. national security. The fact is, there are serious policy and basic oversight questions at stake, and these arguments sidestep the thoughtful conversations we should be having in order to score political points.

My policy on nominations is no secret. I believe an executive should be able to pick his team and have them in action sooner rather than later. As the governor of Idaho, I learned firsthand that having my people in place was critical to serving Idahoans and accomplishing my objectives, and I selected people for my cabinet that represented me and the interests of Idaho.

Many of Biden’s nominees have been delayed because of a very serious policy fight regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Congress, on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis, has passed multiple laws regarding this pipeline and sanctions on Russia regarding its construction and certification. My colleagues and I have repeatedly asked for the legal justifications behind why the laws are not being implemented as they were written. The administration has failed to provide an appropriate legal justification.

The U.S. Senate has a clear constitutional role of advice and consent, and I, and every other senator, take this responsibility seriously. This means the administration and the Senate must work together to move nominees through the process quickly.

This is the origin of the problem: Biden has been slow to nominate people—especially ambassadors. The president did not nominate his first country ambassadors until April 19, 2021, and even then, it took months for a critical mass of nominees to come to the Senate. Virtually all nominees were submitted without the paperwork required for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to begin its review process, creating a backlog just as the Senate was recessing for August and Afghanistan was falling apart.

These first-step delays persist. As of Jan. 28, the president has still not nominated ambassadors to serve in the Philippines, South Korea, Sudan or Ukraine. Only after I sent a letter to him earlier this month did he name an ambassador for the United Kingdom. All of these countries are either close treaty allies of the United States or face substantial security challenges that could soon erupt into conflict. Failure to tap nominees to fill these posts sends the wrong message that diplomacy with these countries is not that important.

At the same time, an administration must engage with the Senate and respect our constitutional duties and concerns before a nominee is confirmed. The president and his team have an obligation to provide information in a timely manner so the Senate can do its job and completely review a nominee. This fact seems lost on the Biden administration. It has been unwilling to share information with the legislators responsible for discharging its nominees.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a responsibility to conduct basic oversight of the State Department and diplomatic activities, yet these efforts are routinely stymied by the administration. Briefings are hard to arrange, and when they do occur, little substantive information is provided. This obstruction requires senators to use the tools available in order to conduct our work.

For instance, I asked of both Biden’s ambassadorial nominees to China and Germany the exact same questions about Chinese influence. The nominee to China was forthcoming and received his committee hearing and confirmation without delay. On the other hand, the administration and the nominee to Germany stonewalled. After three months of withholding information, the nominee finally provided the information I asked to see. Within a week, she had her hearing.

Likewise, I have been asking for months to see relevant State Department cables related to the work of Biden’s nominee to lead the department’s Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance. The State Department has refused to provide all of the cables I have asked to see. This has become such a problem that I inserted a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act—recently signed into law—that legally requires State to provide the information, yet the department has still not shared the necessary cables. The administration’s unwillingness to follow the law is the very thing preventing it from getting its nominee in place.

In the first year of the administration, it took Secretary of State Antony Blinken more than six months to call Sen. Ted Cruz to discuss a path forward on his holds on nominees, delayed due to the policy dispute over Nord Stream 2. In that same time, the White House only called me regarding four nominees. When I identified the paths forward, there was never any follow-up. Ambassadors are badly needed around the world, but the Senate can only work with what we are given. I would urge the president to take our policy concerns more seriously. When an administration works well with the Senate, our national security is better served.

Jim Risch is a U.S. senator from Idaho and the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Twitter: @SenatorRisch

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