As President Joe Biden seeks to reinvigorate American foreign policy with diplomacy at its center, one man stands in his way. It’s not Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, it’s Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been stonewalling Biden’s state department nominees for months and it’s imperiling national security.
More than six months into Biden’s presidency, just six of his State Department nominees have been confirmed by the Senate. More than 60 nominees have been stuck in limbo for months thanks to Cruz effectively blocking a Senate vote on their confirmation. Cruz can’t hold them up forever, but in order to overcome his roadblock Democrats will need to take time-consuming steps to get past a filibuster for each nomination.
The issue that Cruz is fussing over is Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. The project is controversial, with critics contending that it will give Moscow more leverage over Europe, and the Russians have used energy as a form of coercion in the past. Furthermore, the pipeline bypasses Ukraine which means they’ll miss out on transit fees. The Biden administration has decided to waive sanctions on the company and CEO behind Nord Stream 2 as part of a deal with Germany. U.S. officials concluded that sanctions were unlikely to stop the pipeline, which is almost complete, and felt that improving relations with Germany was more important. It should be noted that the Trump administration also decided to forgo sanctioning Nord Stream 2.
Cruz is blocking Biden’s State Department picks until the administration reverses its stance and sanctions Nord Stream 2. While Cruz insists that he is solely motivated by concerns about Russia, others believe that he is merely grandstanding to further his own political ambitions. “Maybe it’s your presidential aspirations,” said Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) during a testy exchange with Cruz. “You held over every nominee. Every nominee! I’ve never seen that.”
Menendez also accused Cruz of “blackening” the Foreign Relations Committee’s long history of bipartisanship.
Indeed, Cruz’s actions may have the long-term effect of eroding a bipartisan tradition in Congress regarding foreign policy. Typically, nominations for positions related to national security and foreign affairs have been treated as something that should be above partisan politics. However, Cruz’s unprecedented stonewalling could undermine the spirit of bipartisanship that surrounds the process.
It’s not just Democrats who are unhappy with Cruz. Even his fellow Republicans are reportedly frustrated with his antics, which they see as pointless. If true, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time Cruz has irked members of his own party.
Cruz’s stonewalling comes at a time when the United States can ill-afford to have key diplomatic positions unfilled. Right now the Biden administration is facing instability in Haiti, a crackdown on protests in Cuba, an increasingly aggressive China, and rapid Taliban advances in Afghanistan. All the State Department bureaus that handle those regions have only interim leaders while they wait for the nominees to be confirmed. Cruz has generally opposed Biden’s nominees, voting no on 18 of the president’s cabinet picks. This ties him with Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) for the second most votes against Biden’s nominees, just behind Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) who voted against 19 of them.
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