Empty Desks at the State Department, Courtesy of Ted Cruz

Dozens of nominations have been held up by a fight between the Texas senator and the Biden administration over a Russian gas pipeline project.


By Michael Crowley

WASHINGTON — The arrival of a new U.S. ambassador to Mexico is usually a routine event. But for the Biden administration, it was a notable victory.

With the Senate’s Aug. 11 confirmation vote, former Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado became the first Biden ambassador to arrive in a foreign capital. And, as of now, the last.

A bitter fight with Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, over a Russian gas pipeline has created what Biden officials call a personnel crisis, with Mr. Cruz delaying dozens of State Department nominees, including 59 would-be ambassadors, and vowing to block dozens more.

Democrats call Mr. Cruz’s actions an abuse of the nomination process and the latest example of Washington’s eroding political norms. They also say he is endangering national security at a time when only about a quarter of key national security positions have been filled.

While Mr. Cruz cannot entirely block Mr. Biden’s State Department nominees, he has greatly slowed the process by objecting to the Senate’s traditional practice of confirming uncontroversial nominees by “unanimous consent.” His tactic means that each nominee requires hours of Senate floor time while other major priorities, including President Biden’s domestic spending agenda, compete for attention.

“It’s really an undermining of the nation’s national security process,” said Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “What we have here is an unprecedented, blanketed holding of all nominees — regardless of whether they have anything to do with the policy issues at stake.”

“That is not something I have seen in 30 years of doing foreign policy work” in Congress, he added. “This is unprecedented.”

Only a dozen of Mr. Biden’s State Department nominees have been cleared for a full Senate vote by the committee — in part, Democrats say, because Republicans on the committee are doing their own foot-dragging. Dozens more are expected to be ready for confirmation soon.

Even by the standards of a Senate where political grandstanding is the norm, Democrats say that Mr. Cruz is blatantly exposing his 2024 presidential ambitions by picking a long-running battle with Mr. Biden.

It is one that has attracted an imitator: Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, is vowing to block all national security nominees over the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan, insisting he will not budge until Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, resign.

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