Writing on the White House blog, Ambassador Susan Rice, the president’s national security advisor, accuses the Senate of harming national security by not confirming more ambassadorial nominees. Rice contends that the current backlog of forty-eight is unnecessary and harmful:
As the President’s National Security Advisor, I am focused every day on keeping our country secure and our citizens – at home and abroad – safe. But these goals are hindered and our stature abroad is weakened when we are not fielding a full team. That’s why I urge the Senate to let the President’s qualified ambassadorial nominees get to work on behalf of the American people.
Right now, 48 nominees for ambassador are pending and 26 are on the Executive Calendar and eligible for confirmation by the full Senate – 16 of whom are career Foreign Service Officers. Together, all ambassadorial nominees have been waiting an average of 161 days, while those on the Executive Calendar have been waiting an average of 262 days. This is simply too long.
Republicans are quick to point out that Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, is responsible for scheduling confirmation votes. Asked to comment on Rice's remarks, Brian McGuire, a spokesman for Republican senator Mitch McConnell replied via email, “Senator Reid schedules the votes, so if Ambassador Rice isn’t happy with the pace of confirmations she should probably call him directly instead of blogging about it and hoping he notices.”
Nevertheless, the White House fingers the Republicans for the holdup. Rice does not single out the GOP in the text of her post, but the accompanying infographic is explicit in placing the blame:
After providing some examples of unconfirmed nominees (Kuwait, Niger, Cameroon, Mauritania, African Union, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) that are "critical to our national security," Rice calls on the Senate to confirm all outstanding nominations, but implies another option was available should bipartisanship fail:
While there is a potential path to confirmation without bipartisan support, our nation's security is stronger when we act together, and so I call on all members of the Senate to agree to confirm these nominees today so we can get them in place now.
The "potential path" to which Rice alludes was made possible by Senate rules changes pushed through by Senate majority leader Harry Reid and the Democrats (all but three voted for the change) last November. The change, commonly referred to as the "nuclear option," allows debate on judicial and executive nominees to be cut off with a simple majority vote rather than the sixty votes required under the old filibuster rules.
According to Senate records, twenty-four ambassadorial nominations have been confirmed just in 2014, many by voice vote, and three others by unanimous roll call votes. However, the remaining two, Crystal Nix-Hines and Keith Harper, both heavy Obama campaign bundlers, were confirmed by slim majorities after cloture was invoked under the new rules.
Any of the remaining nominations could be similarly pushed to a vote, but Harry Reid seems reluctant to exercise the majority's new power to cut off debate, electing rather to defer scheduling votes in the first place. Indeed, a source familiar with Senate proceedings suggested that the backlog in ambassadorial nominees has less to do with Republican obstructionism and more to do with Senator Reid's administrative handling of the Senate schedule and his unwillingness to spend Senate time debating the more controversial nominations.