- The Washington Times - Monday, January 11, 2016

When President Obama nominated John F. Kerry to be secretary of state, it took less than five weeks for the Democrat-controlled Senate to confirm the choice.

These days, however, Republicans run the chamber and are a lot less willing to sign off on any nominees — let alone for foreign posts with an administration in its final year.

As a result, 17 ambassador and other foreign policy nominees are awaiting confirmation, with several Republican senators maintaining procedural “holds” to prevent full floor votes on their status.

Private frustration at the State Department boiled over last week when Mr. Kerry loudly complained that “it just doesn’t make sense.”

“The [U.S.] should always strive to put our most capable team on the field,” he said at a news conference Thursday. “It hurts our country to do what the Senate has allowed to happen to leave open for sometimes more than a year vacant, important positions for our nation.”

It’s not only embarrassing, Mr. Kerry said, but the high number of unfilled posts “actually hurts our security, hurts our interests, sets back our ability to carry our values at the highest level, and most importantly, sets back our ability to organize fully our effort to defeat” the Islamic State terrorist group.

The secretary of state seemed most angry about the Senate’s refusal to confirm a permanent department legal adviser. Brian J. Egan was nominated in September 2014 and confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May, but has never been given a full floor vote. Career lawyer Mary McLeod has served as acting legal adviser since 2013.

“We’ve now exhausted her amount of time that she is legally allowed to serve as an acting legal adviser,” Mr. Kerry said. “So we undermine our own ability as a nation to work on legal questions with other nations and with other agencies of our own government.”

He lamented the lack of floor action on seven other nominees who have been approved by the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as nine who have not even been given a hearing at the committee level.

Among them, Thomas A. Shannon, nominated as undersecretary of state for political affairs, the department’s third-highest job, and Roberta Jacobson, nominated as ambassador to Mexico, the third-largest trading partner to the U.S.

“It is disparaging to [Mexico] that we don’t have the respect to send the ambassador that that country needs and deserves,” Mr. Kerry said.

While Mr. Kerry said one person was responsible for holding up Mr. Shannon’s nomination, but the State Department refused to specify who.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has had procedural holds on the nomination of Mr. Shannon and others for months. Mr. Grassley has said he was using the tactic because the State Department had failed, in his view, to respond in timely manner to congressional inquiries on a host of matters.

After Mr. Kerry’s remarks last week, a spokeswoman for the senator told The Associated Press that the Shannon hold had been lifted. But it’s unclear whether holds by other senators are still in place.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican and a presidential candidate, has placed a hold on Ms. Jacobson’s nomination since October. He has argued that her posting to Mexico should be blocked because he disagrees with the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening with Cuba — an opening she helped negotiate.

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