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Senate blockade leaves Biden administration without ambassadors

Democratic President Joe Biden, in power since January 2021, is having difficulties in approving nominations for the more than 1,200 positions in the US administration and, in terms of diplomacy, only managed to confirm 9% of the ambassadors.

The fragile majority in the Senate (the upper house of the US Congress) — with 50 senators on each side (Democrats and Republicans), leaving the casting vote to Vice President Kamala Harris — has made it difficult to pass the nominations. Democratic President, but the cause of the impasse is deeper and reveals the great political division that lives in the United States of America (USA).

The American Foreign Service Association — an organization representing 17,000 professionals from six agencies and departments — has already expressed its concern about the slow pace of this nomination and Senate approval process, noting that the US has never had so many vacant seats in its history. over 200 years.

By this time in the respective presidential terms, Barack Obama already had 77% of the nominated ambassadors confirmed and Donald Trump had 70% of those seats guaranteed by the Senate.

But nearly a year after arriving at the White House, Joe Biden had so far made only 78 ambassador nominations, of which only seven (9% of the total) were confirmed by the Senate.

Biden couldn’t even get past the name of the important ambassador to the UK.

In Portugal, Randi Charno Levine was introduced as the new US ambassador, but her nomination is one of many that still awaits validation by the Senate, which is progressively more intransigent with presidential options.

“There are several reasons, but there is one that should be highlighted: Republican senator Ted Cruz, who has blocked the nominations of several ambassadors, in retaliation for the fact that Joe Biden has withdrawn the American opposition to the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, between Russia and Germany, in an attempt by the Biden administration to improve relations with Germany,” explained Lusa Nuno Gouveia, an expert on US policy, to the agency.

Although a single senator does not have the power to block nominations, the diplomatic nomination process has been delayed in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee due to outright opposition from several Republicans, especially Ted Cruz.

“But the Biden government is also to blame, as it has not yet made nominations for some posts,” added Nuno Gouveia, warning of the risks of this political impasse, which mirrors Joe Biden’s governmental difficulties and helps explain his drop in popularity rates.

For Felipe Pathé Duarte, a specialist in International Relations and professor at the Nova School of Law, this is “a symptom of the political polarization in Washington”, which is damaging the image of the President and destabilizing the political environment in Congress.

“This inertia has left several capitals without ambassadors. And all of this damages the public image and responsiveness — especially in a context where the US is seeking to regain its authority in global terms and is facing very complex foreign policy crises.”, concluded Pathé Duarte.

“There are huge diplomatic posts all over the world that still do not have an ambassador, and these representations are being led by diplomats without political and institutional weight”, added Gouveia, who recalls that this situation causes diplomatic difficulties, as when the US had one. diplomatic conflict with France, when they announced a US-UK-Australia (AUKUS) agreement for the sale of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia.

Although Biden has been repeating many times, and on various stages, the phrase “America is back”, referring to the recovery of its political weight on the world stage, the truth is that US diplomacy is weakened and, in some cases, inoperative.

“France had a violent reaction to the case of submarines and the United States did not even have an ambassador in Paris, as the person nominated was still waiting for confirmation in the Senate”, concluded Nuno Gouveia.

Significant is also the fact that the Government of Biden has not yet managed to appoint ambassadors to countries that are strategically relevant in the current world political scenario, such as Ukraine, the United Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.

Source: with agencies

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