Flags of NATO alliance members flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Flags of NATO alliance members flap in the wind outside NATO headquarters in Brussels. AP / Olivier Matthys

30 State Department Nominees, Including NATO Ambassador, Advance To Full Senate

Just two Biden ambassadors have been confirmed so far.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misstated one of the people whose nomination was held. It is Atul Gawande, who is nominated to be assistant administrator of the United States Agency for International Development.

President Biden’s pick to serve as the top representative to NATO on Tuesday got one step closer to starting her job, more than 100 days after she was nominated. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a batch of 30 State Department nominees in a business meeting, including Julianne Smith, who is nominated to be America’s ambassador to the alliance. However, these senior diplomats are still waiting to be confirmed by the full Senate, where lawmakers have so far blocked them from moving forward and stalled the administration’s plans to prioritize diplomacy and foreign policy.

The Biden administration is far behind historical norms for the number of confirmed personnel at the State Department at this point in the term. Part of the delay is that some subcommittees did not have a senator willing to preside as ranking member for a nomination hearing, so could not consider the personnel, said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the chairman of the full committee. 

“We have been unable to move forward with a number of nomination hearings at the subcommittee level because we have had no Republican who has stepped up to serve as the ranking member,” he said at the business meeting. “All members are reminded that serving from time to time as the chair or ranking member is an expectation for members of this committee.”

The committee confirmed 30 nominees by voice vote, including David Cohen to be ambassador to Canada, Claire Cronin to be ambassador to Ireland, Mark Gitenstein to be the U.S. representative to the European Union, former Republican senator Jeff Flake to be ambassador to Turkey, former senator Tom Udall to be ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, and Thomas Nides to be ambassador to Israel. 

Two nominees who had been expected to be confirmed by the committee on Tuesday were held back due to objections by at least one lawmaker. The nominations of Barbara Leaf to be assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and Atul Gawandi to be assistant administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, were not sent to the full Senate. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has blocked a number of State nominees over the Biden administration’s handling of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, has put a hold on Leaf’s nomination, Politico reported. 

The White House on Monday slammed Republicans in the Senate for the “unprecedented delays, obstructions, [and] holds” on nominees, including those at the State Department. 

“There has been, time after time, obstruction that has prevented qualified nominees from being in vital positions, whether it's in the national security roles in the Defense Department [or] the State Department, where we've seen ambassadors held for weeks and months,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said at the briefing. “So, I would say the blame is clear. It is frustrating. It is something that we wish would move forward more quickly. And there is historical precedent, of course, of moving these forward through a faster process.”

The Senate has confirmed just 20 State Department officials nominated by President Joe Biden, according to data from the Brookings Institution. In their first 300 days, the George W. Bush administration had 133 State Department officials, the Obama administration had 92 and the Trump administration had 55. Biden will hit 300 days in office on Nov. 16. 

Biden has just one confirmed ambassador serving abroad. Ken Salazar was confirmed in August to serve as the ambassador to Mexico. Linda Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed in February as the ambassador to the United Nations, which is based in the United States.