Texas hold ’em: Biden aides push Cruz to lift ‘death grip’ on nominees

The Texas Republican is obstructing State Department nominees en masse as a result of he’s upset that Biden waived some sanctions associated to Nord Stream 2, a Russian-German power pipeline undertaking that the United States has lengthy opposed.

Cruz has used a mixture of procedural strikes within the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and on the complete chamber’s ground to delay the affirmation course of and needle the administration. His actions have two results: They both delay nominees’ votes, like when Cruz held over a batch of Biden picks from a SFRC enterprise assembly on July 28 to one other on Aug. 4. Or they outright block the complete Senate from lastly confirming a nominee.

Cruz additionally has been vocal about his intentions, main to intense negotiations between him, his workers and administration officers.

In some instances, he has averted escalating the struggle. For instance, Cruz used procedural performs to delay choices on two key positions, consular affairs and diplomatic safety — together with in a spat with SFRC Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). But he didn’t attempt to block these two nominees from being confirmed by the complete Senate on Monday night time.

Cruz isn’t backing down from the broader battle, although. “Americans and people across the world understand the importance of halting the Biden-Putin pipeline,” a senior Cruz staffer advised POLITICO. The aide wouldn’t say if there’s something the administration can supply the lawmaker to lift the holds wanting imposing all the sanctions on Nord Stream 2.

Administration officers have been in “constant, near-daily” contact with Cruz and his staffers, in hopes of getting extra nominees by earlier than the Senate break for its August recess, a senior State Department official stated. But Cruz has resisted the administration’s most important argument: that his recalcitrance is damaging to U.S. nationwide pursuits and nationwide safety.

“The Senate is built on this idea of mutuality and shame,” the senior State Department official stated. “If someone doesn’t have that sense of shame about essentially kneecapping an important national security agency, there’s no magic button that you can push.”

Administration officers describe the Cruz holds as extremely uncommon provided that they aim a whole division and revolve round a coverage dispute, not the senator’s reservations a couple of explicit nominee.

Overall, Biden has nominated 405 individuals for Senate-confirmable positions throughout the federal government, together with the State Department. Of these, 288 are nonetheless awaiting affirmation, way over his trendy predecessors. Before Biden, and relationship again to Bill Clinton, no president had greater than 178 nominees awaiting affirmation at this stage. (That was Donald Trump.)

Historically, many State Department nominees — particularly profession U.S. diplomats tapped for ambassadorships — have been confirmed as a part of packages that sail by the Senate forward of August recess. The date for the recess this 12 months stays an in depth however nonetheless transferring goal.

Getting round Cruz, nonetheless, would require Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to spend valuable ground hours pushing by State nominees, time he’d reasonably spend getting different components of the president’s home agenda by Congress. It was Schumer who blew previous Cruz’s hold to verify Bonnie Jenkins as the undersecretary of State for arms control by forcing a vote on the nomination.

A senior Senate GOP aide wished Schumer would spend extra time on this subject. “So many State nominees need floor time, and only the leader can make that happen,” the aide said. But a Senate Democratic staffer pointed a finger at the Texas lawmaker. “I think the sentiment [in the Senate] is Ted Cruz is responsible for Ted Cruz,” the staffer advised POLITICO.

Administration officers warn the state of affairs is unsustainable.

“This is unprecedented that we would have to negotiate every single one on an individual basis, and it’s going to take years if that’s the case,” the senior State Department official stated.

Several Republicans have expressed sympathy with the administration, the official stated, naming Sens. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) specifically. The administration is also in contact with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, about easing the nominees’ path.

Ultimately, although, it comes down to Cruz.

The Texas Republican has relented at occasions. Recently, after a private attraction from Menendez, Cruz lifted his hold on Jose Fernandez, who was confirmed because the undersecretary of State for financial development, power and the surroundings, the State Department official and the individual aware of the state of affairs stated.

But Cruz is adamant that Biden’s choice to finish sanctions on the pipeline is a traditionally unhealthy one, arguing that it offers Russia extra affect in Central Europe and hurts Ukraine financially. Nord Stream 2 is over 90 % full, and he’s labored intently with each events in Congress to guarantee it doesn’t attain 100 %. That’s why Cruz regularly says publicly and privately that he’ll preserve the holds till Biden imposes all the congressionally mandated sanctions on the pipeline.

Biden defined his pipeline choice throughout a July press convention alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “[B]y the time I became president, it was 90 percent completed,” he stated, “and imposing sanctions did not seem to make any sense. It made more sense to work with the chancellor on finding out how she’d proceed based on whether or not Russia tried to, essentially, blackmail Ukraine in some way.”

That does not fulfill Cruz, and he is pushing the president to change his thoughts. The administration “has repeatedly said their waiver of sanctions can be rescinded. Well, good. [They’ve] laid out the path forward: Rescind the waiver and actually follow the law,” Cruz told POLITICO in his Senate office last month. “And when they rescind the waiver, I will happily lift my holds. State has it within their power to lift the holds any time they want.”

Some critics, although, imagine Cruz is positioning himself because the chief Biden antagonist on overseas coverage, a moniker he can use throughout a attainable 2024 presidential run.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been calling lawmakers to encourage them to assist the nominees get by; Blinken additionally used a press conference final week to urge that the affirmation course of be sped up.

During a Senate listening to final week, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman stated the State Department was “hamstrung” with out all of its individuals in place. Other State Department officers are also utilizing their contacts with senators to press the problem.

Administration officers wouldn’t rule out the potential of asking for out of doors assist — akin to letter-writing campaigns from NGOs that always assist impress public opinion round such points. They additionally didn’t low cost the potential of Biden making a remark in some unspecified time in the future. It was not clear if the president has been weighing in behind the scenes on the Senate, his longtime skilled dwelling.

Biden administration officers careworn that a number of of the nominees which were confirmed have had little to no opposition within the closing vote. They additionally insisted that the Biden administration’s nominees are, for essentially the most half, not partisan warriors the way in which lots of Trump’s have been. (That being stated, the Trump administration expressed fury at what it considered as slow-rolling of nominees by Menendez and different Democrats.)

The hope is that, if nominees proceed to pile up and significant nationwide safety positions stay unfilled, Cruz will really feel extra public stress to launch the holds.

“To some extent it’s sort of been under the radar,” the senior State Department official stated. “Sen. Cruz has been holding all State Department nominees for many months, but it hasn’t been sort of in the public consciousness that he’s doing that.”

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