Republican senators are endangering U.S. national security and harming America’s reputation abroad by blocking dozens of would-be ambassadors and diplomatic nominees from confirmation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.
It’s the Biden administration’s latest skirmish with prominent figures in the GOP over hundreds of stalled nominations for key positions across the Pentagon, State Department and other corners of the federal government. Mr. Blinken, making a rare trip to the State Department briefing room to underscore his displeasure Monday, took particular aim at Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, who has put a hold on State Department nominees amid his quest for information about the origins of COVID-19.
“No one is questioning the qualifications of these career diplomats,” Mr. Blinken told reporters. “They’re being blocked for leverage on other unrelated issues. It’s irresponsible and it’s doing harm to our national security.”
“We cannot and we must not let this become the new normal,” he added. “… My message to the Senate today is this: Let them serve. Put our best team out on the field. Stop harming our national security through unjustified delay and unprecedented obstruction.”
There are at least 62 State Department nominees outstanding in the Senate, including 38 nominees for ambassadorial posts, the department said. Most are career foreign service officers rather than political appointees, State Department officials said.
Mr. Blinken also sent a letter to senators Monday urging quick confirmation of the nominees.
Mr. Paul, as a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, can block those nominees from coming to the Senate floor for expedited votes. As a result, each nominee would have to receive an individual vote on the Senate floor.
“Regardless of if the majority likes it, the committee will only return to expedited procedure when the chairman signs document requests with Dr. Paul, who is simply trying to access COVID-19 documents being held by various government agencies that are under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Relations Committee,” a spokesperson for Mr. Paul told CNN last week.
The senator on Monday reiterated that position, amid a continuing controversy over whether a Chinese research lab played a role in the release of the deadly COVID-19 virus and whether China’s communist government had covered up evidence of a possible lab leak.
“I will continue to exhaust every option I possibly can to get answers on COVID origins and funding,” he said in a Twitter post.
Mr. Blinken said other GOP senators also have holds on State Department nominees. But he made clear Mr. Paul’s position is the main impediment.
“We have been working extensively with Sen. Paul. We’ve provided documents and other information that he’s requested, but unfortunately [he] continues to block all of our nominees,” Mr. Blinken said.
The Pentagon also has found itself at an increasingly bitter impasse with a Republican senator. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Alabama Republican, has placed a hold on more than 200 senior military nominations in protest of the Pentagon‘s abortion policy. That policy, instituted last year, provides financial reimbursement and time off for female service members who travel out of state for abortions.
Among the nominations being held up are posts on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including the now-vacant slot for commandant of the Marine Corps.
Both President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have criticized Mr. Tuberville in increasingly pointed terms for the confirmation delays. The freshman Alabama senator has said he is willing to drop his campaign if Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York allows a full Senate vote on the Pentagon‘s new abortion policy, which he argues violates longstanding bans on taxpayer funding for abortions.
Defense officials say the holds are harming U.S. national security. The standoff will soon come to a head as the Senate takes up its annual National Defense Authorization Act legislation.