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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Democratic lawmakers are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to pick ambassadors with the same focus on diversity he used to fill his Cabinet, according to a letter obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The demand for more minorities representing the country abroad shows how some Democratic interest groups will hold Biden to his diversity pledge throughout the federal government, including his sub-Cabinet, U.S. attorneys and diplomats.

Reps. Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar wrote this weekend in a joint letter to Tony Blinken, Biden's nominee for secretary of state, to discuss the "grave disparities in racial and ethnic minority representation in the Foreign Service."

  • Escobar (D-Texas) said, “Ambassadorial appointments, Foreign Service and Civil Service employees must reflect our broad diversity and the full breadth of American ingenuity and intellect."
  • Castro (D-Texas) wrote: "People are policy — and the diplomats who represent the United States to the world should reflect the diversity of the American people."
  • While under-representation predated President Trump, he appointed white people to more than 90% of his openings, Foreign Policy reported in 2018.

The big picture: The congressional call for ambassadorial diversity will complicate the ambitions of big-dollar Democratic donors, who hope to be rewarded for their fundraising prowess with postcard embassies in Western Europe, South America and the Caribbean.

  • Those plum posts have traditionally gone to donors or politicians representing about a third of the roughly 190 available ambassadorships.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) railed against the bipartisan practice of turning donors into diplomats during the campaign.
  • The president-elect was noncommittal on the campaign trail, saying, “I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” AP reported.

By the numbers: Trump picked more political ambassadors than his immediate predecessors, naming non-State Department employees like Gordon Sondland — a West Coast hotelier and GOP donor who served as ambassador to the European Union.

  • Trump tapped political ambassadors for 44% of his nominations, with the remaining 56% going to career Foreign Service officers, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
  • Under President Obama, 30% of his ambassadors came from the political or donor world, leaving some 70% for the diplomatic corps.
  • For President George W. Bush, the ratio was 32% to 68%.

Go deeper: The State Department has struggled to achieve greater minority representation in its upper ranks, with a Government Accountability Office report last year showing people of color make up 14% of the senior officers in the Foreign Service and 24% of the overall workforce.

  • Out of 189 U.S. ambassadors serving abroad last summer, three were Black and four were Hispanic career diplomats, according to the American Academy of Diplomacy.
  • "The President-elect and Secretary-designate Blinken know that the power of our example is strongest when we are leveraging diversity — especially among women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and other under-represented groups — at all levels, including senior leadership," said Ned Price, a transition spokesman.
  • Biden's team looks "forward to working with Congress on this task," Price said.

Go deeper

Jan 13, 2021 - World

Fate of U.S. consulate in Jerusalem uncertain as Biden takes office

The consulate in 2013. Photo: Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

Outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman made the case against reopening the U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem on Monday in a hearing of the foreign relations and security committee in the Israeli parliament.

Why it matters: During the election campaign, Biden said his administration would reopen the consulate, which had served as the U.S. diplomatic mission to the Palestinians until it was shut down by the Trump administration and merged into the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

50 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.