Blinken pushes against Rand Paul’s blanket hold on diplomatic nominees

Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the Senate to “swiftly” confirm more than 60 nominees to key foreign policy positions, warning in a letter sent to all senators Monday that leaving the roles unfilled was damaging to America’s global standing and national security interests. A few Republican senators, including Sen. Rand Paul, are blocking the nominees for reasons unrelated to their qualifications. 

“Vacant posts have a long-term negative impact on U.S. national security, including our ability to reassure Allies and partners, and counter diplomatic efforts by our adversaries,” Blinken wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CBS News. “The United States needs to be present, leading, and engaging worldwide with our democratic values at the forefront.”

There are currently 62 nominees awaiting confirmation in the Senate, of which 38 are for ambassadorial roles across multiple continents. Of those, “several” have been pending for more than 18 months, a State Department official said.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department on Monday, Blinken said there would be no confirmed U.S. ambassadors to Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon by the end of the summer, as sitting ambassadors completed their tours. 

“People abroad see it as a sign of dysfunction, ineffectiveness, inability to put national interests over political ones,” he said.

He said a “handful” of senators were “keeping our best players on the sidelines,” later noting Republican Sen. Rand Paul, of Kentucky, had placed a blanket hold on nominees. The “vast majority” of the candidates are career officers, Blinken said.

“They’re being blocked for leverage on other unrelated issues. It’s irresponsible, and it’s doing harm to our national security,” Blinken said.

Paul announced in early June that he would block all State Department nominees until the Biden administration released documents related to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blinken said Monday the Department had worked “extensively” with Sen. Paul’s office to achieve a compromise, but had not yet reached one.  

“[They are] documents that we cannot provide because they’re not in our possession. But yet [Sen. Paul] continues to use that as an excuse to hold up State Department nominees … who have never been held to this standard before,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller later said during Monday’s briefing.

“Senator Paul can make legitimate requests of the State Department, of others in the administration, what we object to is him holding hostage nominees who are career Foreign Service officers,” Miller said. 

Paul’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paul is one of several Republican senators currently blocking Senate confirmations from proceeding. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, Republican of Alabama, has also put a blanket hold on all U.S. military nominations over objections to the Pentagon’s abortion policy. More than 260 nominees are stalled, with a backlog of hundreds more possible by the end of the year.

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