The young Texas senator has become the public face of the State Department’s struggles, proudly claiming responsibility for the blockages of scores of senior officials. Cruz is trying to put pressure on the administration on a specific point of Russian policy, a campaign which other Republicans say is unsuccessful and which has sparked a heated scuffle with Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is the chairman of the senatorial committee on foreign relations.
Cruz does not seem disposed to move. “I look forward to lifting the lockdowns as soon as they impose the sanctions on Nord Stream 2 required by federal law,” he told CNN.
Dozens in the queue
Six months after Biden’s inauguration, only six State Department candidates have been confirmed in the Senate. Some 60 nominees have been waiting for confirmation for months. Now, Cruz has effectively blocked the Senate from voting on top department candidates unless Democrats take the tedious steps necessary to overcome an obstruction for each nomination, leaving about a dozen offices without confirmed leadership.
While experienced career leaders fill interim positions, the delay in building established leadership has an impact on the Biden administration’s foreign policy agenda and how quickly it can be implemented in some places, congressional aides, lawmakers and administration officials said.
Administration officials point out that the confirmed candidates who are on hold in the Senate have received overwhelming bipartisan support – even unanimous support for some – and say this demonstrates that the delays are linked to politics rather than quality candidates.
“It is essential for our national security and our foreign policy that the Senate moves forward with these qualified and experienced candidates as quickly as possible,” said a senior administration official.
The standoff also contributes to a growing sense of frustration and mistrust among congressional foreign policy leaders who have historically worked across the aisle. And with the Senate shut down in August, administration officials fear the situation could worsen further if action is not taken in the coming weeks.
“We want to have people – especially in very hot spots, to sort things out,” Menendez told CNN when asked if he hoped more State Department candidates would speak out before departure. senators for the August vacation.
There are a number of factors at play, six sources familiar with the process told CNN: Cruz’s catch; Senate leadership does not prioritize State Department candidates; Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee using individual candidates as leverage to make demands on the administration; lawmakers appear to be slowing down candidates, saying they need more time to review candidate files; and a failure to process some of these files quickly.
But on that long list, it was the Texas lawmaker who created the biggest roadblock of them all, sources on both sides of the aisle said, highlighting Cruz’s hold on State Department candidates. to lobby the administration of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The administration lifted sanctions against the company behind the pipeline and its German CEO in a bid to reconnect with Germany, a crucial ally on several foreign policy priorities. The Trump administration has also decided not to impose sanctions. U.S. officials and outside analysts say that although the pipeline is nearing completion, repeated threats from the Biden administration that the waivers could be lifted at any time are enough to prevent it from going operational anytime soon: the companies that would insure or would operate the pipeline are not likely to take that risk.
‘He is right’
However, Cruz wants sanctions. Secretary of State “Tony Blinken likes to point out that the lifting of sanctions can be overturned,” Cruz told CNN. “He’s right. And that’s how they can lift the blocks.”
Republicans privately admit that they are State Department candidates who walk slowly for concessions from the administration – and also that they are frustrated with Cruz’s campaign, which they see as unnecessary, as the White House will not budge from its Nord Stream policy.
Menendez expressed his own frustration with Cruz’s maneuver at the end of June during a committee business meeting. The New Jersey Democrat told Cruz he had never seen such a situation before in his 14 years on the committee.
Cruz’s blockades on candidates who have reached the Senate floor are “counterproductive to our collective cause advancing US foreign and national security policy,” Menendez said. He accused Cruz of gesticulating and blackening the history of the committee, possibly in the name of presidential ambition, triggering an angry defense from the Texas Republican as the two repeatedly cut each other.
“Maybe it is your presidential aspirations, I don’t know, but you are turning towards political goals,” Menendez told Cruz towards the end of their quarrel, his voice rising in apparent anger. “You selected all the candidates. All applicants! I have never seen this. “
Cruz cut it loud and clear: “I did it for a policy that, Mr. President, you supported… that the Biden administration deliberately undermined and gave a gift to Putin and Russia.”
The fight ended when another senator stepped in to suggest that they are all tackling something easier, like the notoriously thorny debate over a president’s war powers.
Due to Cruz’s sway, there are now more than a dozen State Department leadership candidates who can only be confirmed if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer invokes closure. , a procedural step to break a blockage, end debate and move to a vote that requires 30 hours of debate, a committee aide told CNN.
This is a sign of the politicization of the confirmation process, said a Democratic Senate aide. “The heist shows how the Senate doesn’t work like it once did. Everyone is trying to get what they want by allowing a simple nomination to come forward,” the aide said.
There is some frustration on Capitol Hill that Schumer does not prioritize State Department candidates on the ground, congressional aides told CNN, but also sympathy for the tie the Democrat is in. of New York City as he faces a clockwork and looming summer vacation.
The final weeks of July will be crucial in determining just how serious this situation becomes, State Department officials said. If the candidates do not get votes before the senators leave for their summer vacation, it is unlikely that any of them will be able to start their work before the fall.
As the Senate Foreign Relations Committee processes more nominations – holding a hearing for three other State Department candidates on Tuesday – more candidates are lining up in the queue to travel to the Senate, as well as other nominations, including judicial appointments.
“We hope that some Senate Republicans will stop using time-consuming delay tactics to slow down the confirmation process – even though many candidates have received strong bipartisan support – so these officials can help restore our country’s position in the country. the world and defend American interests abroad, “said the senior administration official.
Senate advisers say there could be a deal with Cruz before lawmakers leave town for the holidays, but it’s unclear how possible that is.
Officials from the White House and State Department have been in contact with Cruz and his office, acknowledging that reaching a deal with him may be the only way to speed up the process. So far, their efforts have been unsuccessful, they told CNN.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.