The junior senator from Texas has grow to be the general public face of the State Department’s difficulties, proudly claiming accountability for blocks on a slew of senior officers. Cruz is making an attempt to strain the administration on a particular level of Russia coverage, a marketing campaign that different Republicans say is fruitless and that triggered a fiery shouting match with Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who’s the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Cruz doesn’t seem keen to budge. “I look forward to lifting the holds just as soon as they impose the sanctions on Nord Stream 2 that are required by federal law,” he advised NCS.
Dozens within the queue
Six months after Biden’s inauguration, simply six State Department candidates have been confirmed on the Senate flooring. Some 60 nominees have been awaiting affirmation for months. Now Cruz has successfully stopped the Senate from voting on senior division nominees until Democrats take the time-consuming steps wanted to overcome a filibuster for every nomination, leaving round a dozen places of work with out confirmed management.
While skilled profession officers are serving in appearing positions, the delay in getting confirmed management in place is impacting the Biden administration’s overseas coverage agenda and how shortly it could be carried out in some locations, congressional aides, lawmakers and administration officers mentioned.
Administration officers level out that the confirmed nominees who’re in a holding sample on the Senate flooring have obtained overwhelming bipartisan assist — even unanimous assist for some — and say this demonstrates that the delays are about politics as an alternative of the standard of the candidates.
“It is critical for our national security and foreign policy that the Senate move forward with these qualified, experienced nominees as quickly as possible,” mentioned a senior administration official.
The impasse is additionally contributing to a rising sense of frustration and mistrust amongst overseas coverage leaders in Congress who’ve traditionally labored throughout the aisle. And with the Senate heading into recess in August, administration officers concern that the state of affairs is poised to get even worse if motion is not taken within the subsequent few weeks.
“We want to have people — particularly in really hot spots, to deal with issues,” Menendez advised NCS when requested if he was hopeful that extra State Department nominees would get to the ground earlier than senators depart for the August recess.
There are various components at play, six sources acquainted with the method advised NCS: Cruz’s holds; Senate management not prioritizing State Department nominees; Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee utilizing particular person nominees as leverage to make calls for of the administration; lawmakers showing to slow-walk candidates, claiming they want extra time to evaluation nominees’ information; and a failure to get by a few of these information expediently.
But out of that lengthy record, it is the lawmaker from Texas who has created the most important roadblock of all, sources from either side of the aisle mentioned, pointing to Cruz’s maintain on State Department nominees to strain the administration over Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The administration waived sanctions on the agency behind the pipeline and its German CEO in an effort to rebuild ties with Germany, an important ally on a number of overseas coverage priorities. The Trump administration additionally determined not to levy sanctions. US officers and outdoors analysts say that whereas the pipeline is nearly full, the Biden administration’s repeated threats that the waivers might be lifted at any time are sufficient to hold it from turning into operational anytime quickly: companies that might insure or function the pipeline aren’t seemingly to take that threat.
Still, Cruz desires sanctions. Secretary of State “Tony Blinken likes pointing out that the waiver of sanctions can be rescinded,” Cruz advised NCS. “He’s right. And that’s how they can get the holds lifted.”
Republicans privately admit they’re slow-walking State Department nominees to squeeze concessions from the administration — and additionally that they are annoyed by Cruz’s marketing campaign, which they see as pointless, because the White House won’t budge on its Nord Stream coverage.
Menendez vented his personal frustration about Cruz’s maneuver in late June throughout a committee enterprise assembly. The New Jersey Democrat advised Cruz that he had by no means earlier than seen a state of affairs like it in his 14 years on the committee.
Cruz’s blocks on nominees who’ve reached the Senate flooring are “counterproductive to our collective cause advancing the foreign policy and national security of the United States,” Menendez mentioned. He accused Cruz of posturing and blackening the committee’s historical past, presumably for the sake of presidential ambition, sparking an offended protection from the Texas Republican as the 2 of them repeatedly lower one another off.
“Maybe it’s your presidential aspirations, I don’t know, but you’re turning to political purposes,” Menendez advised Cruz towards the tip of their spat, his voice rising in obvious anger. “You held over every nominee. Every nominee! I’ve never seen that.”
Cruz lower in loudly: “I did so for a policy that, Mr. Chairman, you used to support … that the Biden administration has deliberately undercut and given a gift to Putin and Russia.”
The sparring got here to a halt when one other senator broke in to counsel all of them deal with one thing simpler, such because the notoriously thorny debate a couple of president’s battle powers.
Because of Cruz’s maintain, there are actually greater than a dozen nominees for senior State Department positions who can get confirmed provided that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invokes cloture, a procedural step to break a filibuster, finish debate and transfer to a vote that requires 30 hours of debate, a committee aide advised NCS.
It’s an indication of simply how politicized the affirmation course of has grow to be, mentioned a Democratic Senate aide. “The holdup shows how the Senate is no longer working in the way it worked in the past. Everyone is trying to get something they want for allowing a simple nomination to go forth,” the aide mentioned.
There is some frustration on Capitol Hill that Schumer is not prioritizing State Department nominees on the ground, congressional aides advised NCS, but in addition sympathy for the bind the New York Democrat is in as he confronts a ticking clock and the looming summer time recess.
The last weeks in July will probably be important in figuring out simply how dire this case turns into, officers on the State Department defined. If nominees do not get votes earlier than the senators depart for their summer time break, it is unlikely that any of them will probably be ready to begin their jobs till someday within the fall.
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee processes extra nominations — holding a listening to for 3 extra State Department candidates on Tuesday — extra nominees are piling up within the queue to go to the Senate flooring, alongside with different nominations, together with judicial appointments.
“We hope some Senate Republicans will cease using time-consuming delay tactics to slow the confirmation process — even though many nominees have received strong bipartisan support — so these public servants can help restore our country’s standing around the world and advocate for American interests abroad,” the senior administration official mentioned.
Senate aides say there might be a deal with Cruz earlier than lawmakers head out of city for recess, however it is not clear how doable that could be.
Officials on the White House and the State Department have been in contact with Cruz and his workplace, acknowledging that putting a deal with him often is the solely method to expedite the method. So far their efforts have been unsuccessful, they advised NCS.
NCS’s Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.