Sen. Mike Enzi pauses for questions on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 8, 2012.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

GOP tantrum derails ambassadorial nominations

Political scientist Norm Ornstein noted last night that “blocking ambassadors when the world is in turmoil and America’s national interest is at stake is simply shameful.” Senate Republicans, I think he was speaking to you.
We’ve been keeping a close eye lately on the vacant U.S. ambassadorial offices around the world, which comes at an unusually awful time. According to the United Nations, there are 193 nations in the world, and of that total, the United States maintains embassies in 169 countries. As of earlier this week, the ambassador’s office is currently empty in a fourth of those embassies because the Senate hasn’t confirmed anyone.
The Senate Democratic majority was eager to address the problem before Congress left for its five-week break, but in a sad and unnecessary tantrum, the Senate Republican minority had other ideas.
The Senate may not be confirming nominees to posts in a slew of countries before departing for the August recess, but after some procedural maneuvering, the U.S. will be getting a top diplomat in Russia.
Senators confirmed the nomination of John F. Tefft by voice vote as the chamber finished evening business after he faced objection to confirmation by unanimous consent earlier in the night.
GOP senators originally blocked a vote on Tefft’s nomination to become the Ambassador to Russia, but they eventually changed their mind for no apparent reason. It was a heartening move – relations with Russia are fairly important right now, as some in Congress might have noticed – but it doesn’t negate the fact that the GOP was far less gracious towards a variety of other nominees who are eager to represent the United States in embassies around the globe.
Take Guatemala, for example, which also happens to be pretty important right now. Colby Itkowitz reported:
[Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez] raised his voice, “I don’t understand how we can actually object to places like Guatemala where we’re having the crisis we just debated right now … about the children who are coming here.”
He then tried to get unanimous consent just to confirm Tefft. [Republican Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming] objected again over the Senate Democrats taking away “minority rights.”
Menendez repeated the tactic for the nominee for the South Korea post. Enzi objected again. Menendez tried for Guatemala. No dice.
Guess he can try again in September – when they have two weeks before they leave again to campaign for the midterms. Until then – if even then – the dozens of ambassadors-in-waiting will just have to wait.
The question then becomes, “Why?” Why must these qualified nominees, who would be confirmed if given a vote, put their lives and their families’ lives on hold indefinitely? Asked to explain why a Republican tantrum should undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts, Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told his colleagues, “We used to pass ambassadors and all kinds of people en bloc like that, but we have this nuclear option now that the majority chose so it takes a little longer to do that whole process, and on that basis, I object.”
It’s important to understand exactly what Enzi is saying here. Republicans abused filibuster rules to such an unprecedented extent that Democrats restored majority-rule on nomination votes. This hurt Republicans’ feelings, so they’re blocking votes on ambassadors, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the consequences, and regardless of America’s foreign-policy interests.
There was quite a bit of drama on Capitol Hill yesterday, but these childish GOP antics were at least as shameful as anything we’ve seen lately.