“If you are injecting your own personal politics in a way that harms American national security and diplomacy, that’s not fine,” Vance said in an interview. “The questions all try to get at those issues.”
Vance said he’s recently lifted some holds after getting the filled-out questionnaires, but didn’t say which ones. He said he may release other holds before Congress leaves town for the August recess this week.
Holds from Vance and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are a major reason dozens of U.S. ambassadorships and other State Department roles are vacant. The nominees for the positions are primarily career diplomats with long Foreign Service resumes who have worked under both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations, not political appointees brought in from the outside. Some have been waiting for confirmation for well over a year.
Paul has a broad hold on State nominees because he’s seeking more information from the Biden administration about the origins of the Covid pandemic. Paul confirmed Thursday that he and the State Department are close to a deal that could free some or many of the nominees from his holds.
Vance has been more selective about placing holds. He declined to give names or spell out his frustrations with each person. But he said he is opposed to diplomats voicing views abroad that, in his view, don’t represent a broad majority of Americans.
“You can call it ‘extreme left’, ‘woke,’” Vance said. “To me it’s leaning toward cultural progressivism in a way that alienates half of our country and frankly it probably alienates about 80 percent of the countries these guys are going to represent us in front of.”
Lecturing countries on social issues, particularly in Africa where some leaders see China as an alternative ally, damages U.S. national security, he argued.
While it’s unclear what the range of issues and stances are that Vance deems off-limits, he pointed out that several months ago he raised questions about Stephanie Sullivan, the nominee to represent the United States at the African Union because of her past actions related to issues such as gender identity. Sullivan, previously ambassador to Ghana, promoted the LGBTQ community in that country.
“Why do we have a liberal white woman going to Africa and telling them they’re not civilized enough when it comes to transgender ideology,” Vance said in an April 19 Senate floor speech, likening it to “cultural imperialism.”
Career diplomats are traditionally expected to serve in a nonpartisan fashion, meaning they implement the policies of whoever is president without regard to their personal beliefs.
The Biden administration has generally supported LGBTQ rights abroad, including opposing laws that criminalize homosexuality.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Ghana in March, which coincided with the Ghanaian parliament’s consideration of a bill that punish homosexual acts with jail time. She said LGBTQ freedom and equality is “an issue that we consider to be a human rights issue, and that will not change.”
Usually, career diplomats have an easier time getting through confirmation than political appointees from outside the Foreign Service. But the deepening partisanship in Washington has meant longer and longer confirmation times for them as well.
Vance’s actions are a bit unusual because he doesn’t sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the main panel that vets State Department nominees. Those committee members often send questions to nominees separate from what they ask in hearings, although they tend to be focused on policy issues related to the countries the nominees would engage in.
Still, any member of the Senate can severely slow down the confirmation process, if not completely block a nominee. And to get nominees through holds, Democrats, who control the Senate, would have to use procedures that would eat up valuable floor time.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently publicly called for swifter confirmations, saying the delayed nominations are “undermining our national security.”
The State Department declined to comment on the Vance questionnaires. But spokesperson Matthew Miller said State was making a big push this week to get nominees through the Senate, which will soon go on break.
“If they’re not confirmed this week, their kids will not be able to enroll in new schools overseas – and our diplomatic families will be forced to separate,” Miller noted in a statement.
Vance insisted he was just doing his constitutionally mandated job as a senator. “It’s really just a process of providing advice and consent, understanding where these people are coming out on the issues of the day,” he said.