With only Christmas barely a week away, Senate Democrats are furiously trying to come to an agreement that will end Sen. Ted Cruz’s blockade of State Department nominees.
While one senator can’t completely block Biden’s nominees, Cruz can force Democrats to go through the lengthy process of overcoming the filibuster for each confirmation, wasting valuable time that the Senate would prefer to use for other priorities. This has allowed Cruz to keep dozens of Biden’s nominees, including ambassadors and senior State Department officials, in limbo for months. While Cruz has lifted his hold for some positions, such as Biden’s pick for ambassador to China, more than 50 ambassador nominees are still waiting for a floor vote.
Cruz’s slow-walking has angered administration officials, congressional Democrats, and even some Republicans who worry that the lack of Senate-confirmed leaders in the State Department is hurting the United States’ ability to protect its overseas interests.
Democrats are in the midst of active negotiations with Cruz as well as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), who has played a similar game with State and Defense Department nominees. According to Politico, Cruz has offered a double-digit list of holds he will lift in exchange for a vote on Nord Stream 2 sanctions, with a promise to lift more if the amendment passes. Nord Stream 2 is a controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, and the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on it prompted Cruz to enact his nominee blockade.
However, the negotiations have yet to yield results. Senate Foreign Relations Chair Bob Menendez (D-NJ) has rejected striking a deal that would only allow some nominees through, saying Cruz needs to lift his holds across the board. Cruz has rejected the notion of a blanket lift of his holds.
With both sides at an impasse, Democrats are threatening to play hardball, saying they are prepared to keep the Senate in session right up until Christmas. Senators were scheduled to go home for the year today.
Whatever Democrats do, there’s a sense of urgency since Biden’s nominees will have to start the confirmation process from square one if they aren’t confirmed by the end of the year. The Senate rules say that all pending nominations are returned to the president at the end of the first session unless there is unanimous consent to hold over a nominee until next year’s session (obviously Cruz could single-handedly prevent consent from being unanimous). With the end of the year only a couple of weeks away, the clock is ticking.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s office did not respond to the Signal’s request for comment.
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