Trump misleads public on ambassador nominees

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent
President Trump (Photo: Mike Theiler/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday wrongly accused Democrats of stalling his ambassadorial nominees in the Republican-controlled Senate, where diplomatic picks cannot be filibustered.

“Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals,” Trump said on Twitter.

Trump’s tweet came as he carried on a long-distance spat with London Mayor Sadiq Khan in the aftermath of a deadly terrorist attack over the weekend. The U.S. embassy in London directly contradicted the president’s criticisms of Khan. Trump has yet to nominate an ambassador to Britain.

In fact, the president’s relatively small number of ambassadorial nominees are making their way through the process, which starts with the administration sending the relevant paperwork to the GOP-controlled Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After a president makes such nominations, the panel holds a confirmation hearing, followed by a vote on whether to refer nominees to the full Senate for confirmation. Republicans determine the Senate floor schedule, and as a result of past changes imposed by Democratic former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, ambassadors cannot be filibustered.

Trump’s pick for ambassador to China, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, won easy confirmation in an 82-13 vote on May 22. His nomination was delayed, but China, not Senate Democrats, appears to have been the cause. The president’s pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, is already on the job.

The full Senate is expected to vote soon on the nomination of former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown for ambassador to New Zealand. The panel approved Brown 10 days ago.

Trump’s pick to be administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), former congressman Mark Green, will get a confirmation hearing on June 15. Trump campaign supporter Doug Manchester’s file is complete, and the committee is expected to schedule a hearing on naming him ambassador to the Bahamas. Bill Hagerty, the businessman Trump picked to be ambassador to Japan, is waiting for a confirmation hearing. The administration has yet to send the committee all of the paperwork related to the nomination of Callista Gingrich, who is married to vocal Trump backer and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as ambassador to the Vatican. There are no signs that committee Democrats are blocking any of the picks. Aides to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R.-Tenn., did not answer Yahoo News requests for comment Monday morning. Corker golfed with Trump over the weekend.

But a Republican Senate aide told Yahoo News that “the committee continues to review and process all nominations in a rigorous and timely manner. We remain in close contact with the State Department and will continue to process nominations as quickly as possible.” The aide requested anonymity.

According to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, Trump has not picked a nominee for 442 out of 559 key positions requiring Senate confirmation. At the same time, his nonambassadorial choices have faced longer delays between nomination and confirmation than those of his predecessors.

Senate Democrats forced cloture votes on two of the five ambassadorial nominations to date — those of Friedman and Branstad — causing minor delays but doing nothing to prevent confirmation. Under Reid’s changes, ending debate just requires 51 votes rather than the 60 previously needed.

“The president should get off Twitter and lead his team in sending more ambassadors and other crucial nominees to the Senate,” said Sean Bartlett, a spokesman for the top Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democrat, Ben Cardin of Maryland. “We’re ready to do our job, but he needs to do his first. That’s how the process works.”

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