While Ted Cruz has been stonewalling the confirmation of Biden’s State Department nominees for months, it appears he will not do so in the case of R. Nicholas Burns, Biden’s nominee for ambassador to China.
Cruz, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has single-handedly kept dozens of key diplomatic confirmations stuck in limbo. While Cruz cannot block Biden’s nominees forever, he has exploited Senate rules in a way that greatly slows the process. As a result, Biden has far fewer confirmed ambassadors compared to his predecessors.
Cruz initiated his State Department blockade over Nord Stream 2, a controversial natural gas pipeline between Germany and Russia. The Biden administration decided to waive sanctions on the project as part of a deal with Germany. Cruz wants sanctions reimposed, and is holding Biden’s nominees hostage toward that end.
In addition to the overarching Nord Stream 2 issue, Cruz has voiced opposition with individual nominations, placing a hold on assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs nominee Barbara Leaf over dissatisfaction with her answers to his written questions.
The unprecedented diplomatic logjam has angered both Democrats and Republicans. “You held over every nominee, every nominee!” said Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) during a testy exchange with Cruz. “I’ve never seen that.”
However, it seems that Cruz is only willing to go so far. According to Bloomberg, the senator has no intention of stalling Burns’ confirmation as ambassador to China. China is the only country in the world with the potential to match or exceed the economic and military might of the United States in the foreseeable future. As a result, the relationship between the United States and China will be the defining geopolitical issue of our time, and it may be one of the few remaining areas of bipartisan consensus in Washington. Apparently, even Cruz does not want to engage in political grandstanding over such an important diplomatic post, which has gone without a Senate-confirmed ambassador for over a year.
Burns is not the only exception Cruz has made. He recently allowed the confirmation of two former Senators and the widows of two senators to proceed.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has also promised to stonewall Biden’s national security nominations over the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal, although it’s unclear whether he will do so over Burns’ nomination. “Senator Hawley has said he will hold leadership positions in the State Department and the Defense Department. He does not have a blanket hold on ambassadors. He is still reviewing Nicholas Burns’ nomination,” a spokesperson for Hawley told Axios.
Burns is a career diplomat who previously served as ambassador to Greece, ambassador to NATO, and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. In his confirmation hearing, Burns highlighted shared interests on issues like climate change and nonproliferation, while also taking a hard line on issues like Taiwan, technology, and human rights. “Beijing proclaims that the ‘East is Rising and the West is in Decline,’” Burns testified. “I am confident in our country, and believe that, together with our allies and partners, we will prove them wrong.”
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