Oct 18, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Breaking Biden's diplomatic logjam

Ambassadors <span style="background:#14A0FF;padding:2px 5px;border-radius:5px;color:white;">submitted</span> and <span style="background:#FFBC3C;padding:2px 5px;border-radius:5px;color:black;">confirmed</span> <br>by Oct. 18
Data: Center for Presidential Transition via Congress.gov; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

The logjam for reviewing and confirming President Biden's ambassadorial picks is finally starting to break.

Why it matters: Biden is far behind his predecessors in the rate at which his ambassadorial picks have been confirmed. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a series of high-profile hearings and votes this week to finally begin chipping away at the backlog.

By the numbers: Only nine of Biden's ambassador picks have been confirmed to date. By Oct. 18 of the first year of prior administrations:

  • George W. Bush: 73 confirmed ambassadors
  • Barack Obama: 59
  • Donald Trump: 24

Driving the news: The Foreign Relations Committee will meet Tuesday to vote on several nominees, including:

  • Morgan Stanley executive Thomas Nides as ambassador to Israel.
  • Former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) as ambassador to Turkey.
  • Former Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) as ambassador to New Zealand.
  • Comcast executive David Cohen as ambassador to Canada.
  • Businesswoman Cindy McCain, widow of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), as ambassador to the World Food Programme in Rome.
  • Former Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware as ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris.

What to watch: Expect fireworks on Wednesday, when Rahm Emanuel, the president's nominee for ambassador to Japan, testifies at his confirmation hearing.

  • Both Republican and Democratic senators are eager to question the former Chicago mayor and chief of staff to President Obama.
  • Emanuel has been quietly lobbying senators for weeks to support his nomination and has already racked up a few Republican votes.

But, but, but: Progressives have criticized Emanuel's record.

  • They criticize his opposition to a more ambitious federal economic stimulus bill in 2009, and attack his handling of the police shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago.
  • Emanuel's hearing occurs on the seventh anniversary of McDonald's death.

Nick Burns, Biden's nominee for ambassador to China, and Jonathan Kaplan, his pick for ambassador to Singapore, also will testify on Wednesday.

  • Burns, a Harvard professor and former State Department official, will be asked about how he plans to navigate efforts to team up with the United States' Asia-Pacific allies to compete with Beijing.
  • Kaplan, a former tech entrepreneur, will likely lean on his business and tech background during his hearing.
  • Singapore is quickly becoming a new global technology hotspot, yet the U.S. hasn’t had an ambassador to there since January 2017.

Between the lines: Despite the Senate's acceleration in clearing the Biden backlog, there are still dozens of important ambassadorial posts that need filling.

  • Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) plan to continue slowing down the process by objecting to the Senate moving forward via unanimous consent.
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