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Wanted: U.S. Ambassadors

The United States maintains embassies in 169 countries around the globe. In one-fourth of them, thanks to the Senate GOP, there is no ambassador.
The US flag flutters in front of the US consulate in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013.
The US flag flutters in front of the US consulate in Hong Kong on June 10, 2013.
According to the United Nations, there are 193 nations in the world. Of that total, the United States maintains embassies in 169 countries around the globe. But on the show the other day, Rachel highlighted a striking statistic: in a fourth of those embassies, the ambassador's office is empty, because the Senate hasn't confirmed anyone.
There are practical consequences of this. Unaccompanied children from Guatemala, for example, are reaching the U.S./Mexico border, and officials are working on possible solutions. But there's a limit on the amount of diplomatic work that can be done in the Central American country, since the U.S. has no ambassador to Guatemala. We don't have an ambassador to Russia, which also happens be a pretty consequential country right now.
There are a variety of factors contributing to the problem, but there's reason to believe our embassies may soon receive some new ambassadors after all.

There's a chance at least some of the ambassadors caught in a legislative holding pattern might be confirmed before the August recess. While the process of filling the diplomatic corps has been slow in the aftermath of the "nuclear option" standoff last fall, Sen. Ted Cruz said Monday that he had withdrawn his more recent objection. The Texas Republican had placed a hold on State Department nominees.... Cruz had placed the hold because of last week's brief Federal Aviation Administration ban on flights by U.S. carriers to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Cruz's conspiracy theory was pretty outlandish, even for him, but as part of his tantrum, the far-right senator announced a blanket hold on all State Department nominees, regardless of merit. The Texas Republican lifted that hold yesterday.
But before any ambassadors-in-waiting start packing their bags, the Washington Post reported that regardless of Cruz's antics, "the pace of ambassador confirmations is unlikely to quicken. Republicans still demand a cloture vote that eats up debate time and slows the process, which is akin to placing a hold on them."
Frances Stead Sellers' report from late last week was fascinating.

With easy access to the Capital Beltway and Dulles International Airport, the Oakwood Apartments in Falls Church boast all the slightly sterile conveniences of a temporary corporate housing complex: a fitness center, tennis courts, free shuttles to stores and a pool. From that pool you can hear planes whooshing overhead to points overseas. For the families of Michael Hoza and Donald Lu, those flights are a reminder of what might have been -- and what they hope will still happen. If things had gone according to plan, Hoza would have jetted off to Cameroon last year and Lu to Albania, both destined for the top job in U.S. embassies there. But these Foreign Service nomads have become Foreign Service exiles, stuck in their home country but not in their own homes.

The "nuclear option" prevents Republicans from filibustering President Obama's nominees, but GOP senators can still slow the confirmation process to a crawl, which is exactly what Republicans have done -- forcing the Democratic majority to jump through procedural hoops while the minority drags out the process unnecessarily, just because they can.
Senate Dems want to confirm the ambassadorial nominees, but they can't afford to eat up too much of the limited calendar, so the nominations languish.
The State Department is urging the chamber to take up a large group of uncontroversial nominees at the same time -- an "en bloc" confirmation vote -- but it's unclear if Republicans will tolerate the move before Congress leaves for its five-week break.
It's only international diplomacy during a time of multiple foreign crises, right?