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The dangerous way Ted Cruz is undermining U.S. foreign policy

One Senate Democrat said dealing with Ted Cruz and his blockade on ambassadors is "like negotiating with a terrorist." But there may be a new solution.


President Joe Biden is preparing to travel to Europe for two global summits, including a G-20 summit. In theory, the U.S. ambassador to the countries participating in these international gatherings has spent weeks engaging in diplomatic legwork.

In practice, the Biden administration only has four ambassadors to foreign countries — and before this week, the total was just one. For comparison, at this point in Donald Trump's first year, the Senate had already confirmed 22 ambassadors.

In some instances, the White House hasn't yet sent diplomatic nominees to the Senate for consideration, but the principal problem is Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. The Washington Post reported that Democratic senators' usual irritation at Cruz has "reached new levels."

"This risks being hyperbolic, but it's like negotiating with a terrorist," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said of Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with past and potentially future presidential ambitions. "He is not the secretary of state. The people of this country did not elect him or his party to represent us abroad. And what he's asking for is to control American foreign policy."

The Connecticut Democrat added, "Public diplomacy is neutered when you don't have an ambassador. When six months or a year goes by without a U.S. ambassador, they infer that it's a value judgment being placed on the relationship."

The practical implications matter: As the Post's report added, "In some countries, high-ranking government officials will not meet with anyone short of a formal U.S. ambassador, shunning the chargés d'affaires who have taken over in the interim."

As we recently discussed, Cruz has justified his blockade by pointing to a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline called Nord Stream 2. If the Biden administration imposes sanctions on the Russia-backed company behind the pipeline, Cruz will probably back off.

Of course, the Texas Republican is just one senator. The idea that an individual lawmaker can undermine his own country's international diplomacy over a single issue is difficult to take seriously.

And yet, here we are, watching the country that considers itself the preeminent global superpower unable to confirm qualified ambassadors through an institution run by the president's own party.

As a procedural matter, Cruz is not in a position to defeat every relevant Biden nominee on his own. But by abusing the chamber's dysfunctional rules, the Republican can force Democratic leaders to jump through a series of time-consuming hoops to confirm qualified nominees that the Senate has traditionally advanced in an efficient manner. At the same time, the more the governing majority is forced to clear these procedural hurdles, the less it's able to do other legislative work.

With this in mind, the Post's report added that Senate Democrats "are plotting how best to exert pressure on Cruz to stop his blockade of potentially dozens of critical, foreign policy picks."

If Cruz and other like-minded Republicans don't cease their blockade, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) has told Democratic senators that they will have to confirm these noncontroversial nominees "the hard way" and work late nights and weekends to process them, according to a person familiar with the majority leader's thinking. That moment, the person said, is likely to come soon.

These efforts would likely make Cruz extremely unpopular with his colleagues — senators generally don't care for having to work late nights and weekends — but since the Texan isn't winning any Capitol Hill popularity contests anyway, perhaps that won't matter.