WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Senate to move forward with votes on more than 60 diplomatic appointments, including 38 ambassadors, that have been stalled due to objections from individual lawmakers.
In a letter to the 100 senators and in public comments, Blinken said delays in confirmation votes for those nominees posed a national security risk. Blinken said 35 of the 38 ambassadorial nominees are career foreign service officers who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.
“Vacancies have a long-term negative impact on the national security of the United States, including our ability to reassure our allies and partners, and counter the diplomatic efforts of our adversaries,” Blinken wrote in the letter. In particular, he pointed to China and Russia as the main beneficiaries of the Senate’s inaction.
Blinken singled out Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky as the main obstacle. Paul suspended all State Department applicants, citing the Biden administration’s refusal to provide him with documents related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No one questions the qualifications of these career diplomats,” Blinken told reporters. “They are blocked from leverage on other unrelated issues. It is irresponsible and it harms our national security.
State Department spokesman Matthew Miller later said Paul was holding qualified career candidates “hostage” for no good reason. “Senator Paul can make legitimate requests of the State Department or other members of the administration; what we object to is him holding candidates hostage,” he said.
The backlog of State Department candidates awaiting Senate confirmation is similar to but less pronounced than that facing the Pentagon. A Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, has a blanket sway over all Defense Department appointments and promotions in an attempt to change the Pentagon’s abortion policy.
Tuberville has already blocked more than 260 senior officer appointments and that number could reach 650 by the end of the year.