The Senate unanimously confirmed veteran diplomat William Burns as the new director of the CIA on Thursday, setting the stage for him to take over following the retirement of Gina Haspel, who was director since 2018 and was the first woman to head the spy agency.
Mr. Burns, a former career State Department official, who served as ambassador to Russia and Jordan and rose to the rank of deputy secretary of state during the Obama era in Washington, has never worked on the intelligence side of the government ledger.
But his vast experience as a respected American diplomat, coupled with the wide slate of behind-the-scenes connections he has in the U.S. foreign policy and national security communities, made Mr. Burns a popular pick to lead the CIA, even as some policy hawks have privately expressed wariness over his nomination.
Mr. Burns was a favorite diplomat of the Obama administration, and has since called former President Trump’s withdrawal from the Obama-era Iranian nuclear deal “foolish.” He also openly questioned the strategic value of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s top military general last year.
But former high-level intelligence officials rallied behind Mr. Biden’s nomination of Mr. Burns, asserting that his deep institutional and geopolitical experience have already earned him widespread respect at the CIA.
Democrats praised his confirmation Thursday.
As our nation continues to face a growing and diverse set of threats around the globe, we must have experienced leaders in place who are ready to grapple with these risks head-on,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “I am confident that Director Burns, a loyal public servant, will lead the CIA with integrity and objectivity, and provide the leadership and support that the brave men and women of the CIA deserve.”
Republicans have been less vocal in their support, although they joined with Democrats in the Senate in confirming Mr. Burns unanimously without a roll-call vote.
Initially, Mr. Burns was on a path to even smoother confirmation, but his nomination was disrupted when Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, put a hold on it as part of an unrelated push for the Biden administration to impose economic sanctions on Russian and European companies involved in Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement Thursday asserting that the administration does intend to sanction companies that ignore U.S. demands that they stop working on the pipeline. Following the statement from Mr. Blinken, Mr. Cruz lifted his hold on the Burns nomination.