Senate Democrats are putting America's national security at risk by delaying the confirmation of nominees to top diplomatic posts, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged Wednesday.
“We’ve done our part at the State Department by putting forward a slate of candidates,” Pompeo said in a Wednesday evening bulletin. “It’s Sen. Bob Menendez and his colleagues who have refused to vote on these nominees, putting our nation at risk.”
That salvo continued a fight that broke out publicly last week, when Pompeo accused the New Jersey Democrat using his position as the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee to slow-walk dozens of nominees. Menendez’s team denied that charge and faulted Pompeo for failing even to nominate ambassadors to certain key countries.
Menendez renewed that criticism when he responded to Ambassador Nikki Haley’s decision to resign her post as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
“I am deeply concerned about the leadership vacuum she leaves and the national security impact of her departure at this time of continued disarray for this administration,” he said Tuesday.
Pompeo countered that Menendez is “shamefully” blaming the administration for a problem that he and his colleagues are creating. “More than a dozen of these qualified political nominees are being held up by Senate Democrats because of politics,” he said.
The blockaded nominees are a subset of a larger list of 65 incoming diplomats who Pompeo complained last week have been held up. But the mechanics of most of those delays are far from clear. A memo from Menendez’s office last week emphasized that Republicans have the authority to set the schedule most of those nominees in the committee and on the Senate floor.
“There are not 65 State Department nominees pending on the Senate floor or with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee,” the Menendez memo said. “In fact, there are only 17 State Department nominations pending on the Senate floor as of today. And the Committee is moving forward with hearings at a schedule set by the chairman, with 22 of the 38 before us having already had a hearing, or have had one scheduled.”
Mendendez’s team also took aim at the roster of nominees. “A shocking number of Trump administration nominees have serious problems,” the memo said, putting a spotlight on one prospective diplomat who had a restraining order put on her by her ex-husband’s doctor. “The fact is this administration does not like to be called out for nominating people who are of questionable fitness to serve in the U.S. government and to represent this country around the world.”
The State Department conceded that such derogatory information has stymied “a handful of our nominees,” but emphasized that no such “red flags” have surfaced for candidates to the highest-profile positions that Pompeo cited.
“Sen. Menendez is the only reason that Brian Bulatao, the nominee for under secretary for management, has not gotten a vote in committee,” a senior State Department official told the Washington Examiner. “A business meeting should be scheduled as soon as possible with a vote on the agenda for him.”
The fight has complicated what had been a point of amicability between Pompeo and Democratic lawmakers Trump tapped him to take over as the nation’s top diplomat. Outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was criticized for failing to fill key diplomatic slots, delaying the nominations as he planned an overhaul of the State Department.
Menendez complimented Pompeo’s commitment to reversing those policies, but still led an effort to defeat his confirmation.
The two clashed during a subsequent hearing over Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, exchanging complaints about “political soliloquies” and allegations of hypocrisy.
“Sen. Menendez cares deeply about the State Department and wants to help staff it with experienced people able to advance our interests abroad,” his team argued in the memo. “That is why he has worked with the Chairman to move qualified nominees at a fast pace. For example, David Hale, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, had his file complete on July 26, 2018, received a hearing on August 16, was reported on August 22, and was confirmed on August 28, all within the space of a month.”
But a new dispute over State Department support for Trump’s immigration policies soured the process. Menendez faulted Pompeo for sending $20 million in State Department funding to the Department of Homeland Security — to finance the deportation if illegal immigrants — without adequate consultation with Congress.
“Without further clarification and appropriate action by you to resolve this matter, the decision you have made will leave us with no alternative but to consider all of our legislative and oversight options to assure that Congress is able to fulfill its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities,” he wrote in an Oct. 2 letter.
That thinly veiled threat to delay the confirmation of more diplomats provoked a public rebuke from Pompeo while he briefed reporters on his impending trip to North Korea. And that war of words has continued with his return.
“Our nominees should not be used for political gain; this is not how the nomination process should work,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told the Washington Examiner. “The Secretary has been clear and transparent: We have done our part to put the team on the field, now we need the Senate to do theirs.”
Pompeo was even more pointed.
“These outstanding candidates remain unconfirmed because Sen. Menendez and some of his colleagues are using our nominees as a political football,” he said. “This is unacceptable. The ‘risk’ to the nation lies at the feet of Sen. Menendez. We need our team on the field to conduct America’s foreign policy, and today I call on the senator and his colleagues to stop this delay and obstruction now.”