The Senate confirmed a slate of high-profile State Department nominees late Thursday night, including ambassadors to Italy, Jordan, Georgia, the United Arab Emirates, Niger, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
The confirmations came after Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told CNN earlier in the evening that he was close to a deal with the State Department to release holds on nominees in exchange for records on the origins of COVID.
There was no resolution, however, to an ongoing impasse over military nominations as Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama maintains holds in protest over a Pentagon abortion policy.
Paul tweeted Thursday evening, “After 2 yrs, the State Department and USAID have agreed to release documents related to risky research conducted in Wuhan. I am pleased that both agencies are going to cooperate in our investigation and provide these critical records.”
“As we’ve long said, when we don’t have an ambassador in place, our adversaries fill the void, making the confirmation of these individuals for posts in Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific a victory for US leadership and democracy,” State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said in a statement to CNN.
“We are thankful to the Senators who worked in good faith to confirm these qualified nominees, including the leadership of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Sen. Menendez,” Miller said.
Meanwhile, pressure intensified over Tuberville’s hold during the Senate’s final week in session prior to the start of the August recess.
Tuberville’s hold cannot ultimately stop Pentagon nominees from being approved, but moving through dozens of military promotions, which are typically so uncontroversial that they can be approved with a simple agreement, would take months. It would consume the Senate floor and paralyze the body from being able to take up almost any other action, aides say.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday evening that Senate Democrats would not work to release Tuberville’s hold on military promotions, saying that is “the Republicans’ responsibility,” and that he does not regret “not one bit” that he didn’t put one or two promotions on the floor to try and pry open the hold before the recess.
“This is the responsibility of the Republican Senate caucus. Leader McConnell has condemned what Tuberville has done,” he said. “It’s up to them. Now I think in August, pressure is going to mount on Tuberville. And I think the Republicans are feeling that heat. As you know, I offered Tuberville if he wanted to put his amendment on the floor, (the Republican Sen. Joni) Ernst amendment, I said ‘go ahead.’”
“So he’s boxing himself into a corner,” Schumer said. “It’s the Republicans’ responsibility. Theirs, and theirs alone.”
CNN has previously reported that GOP leadership and fellow lawmakers trying to entice Tuberville to back off are treading carefully, knowing that Tuberville is exercising a power that rank-and-file members want to protect for the future while also recognizing that a long-term standoff with the military could have implications on readiness and recruitment.
”I’m taking all the fire from the other side, but I’m fine with it. I mean, I knew that was gonna happen. I knew it was gonna be tough, but I’m doing it for the right reasons,” Tuberville recently told CNN. The Republican senator is objecting to the Pentagon’s policy of reimbursing military service members and their families for travel to obtain abortion care.
Here are State Department ambassador nominees that were confirmed by the Senate on Thursday:
- Eric Kneedler to be ambassador to the Republic of Rwanda
- Hugo Yue-Ho Yon to be ambassador to the Republic of the Maldives
- Kathleen FitzGibbon to be ambassador to the Republic of Niger
- Martina Anna Tkadlec Strong to be ambassador to the UAE
- Robin Dunnigan to be ambassador to Georgia
- Nicole D. Theriot to be ambassador to the Co-operative Republic of Guyana
- Ervin Jose Massinga to be ambassador to the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
- Yael Lempert to be ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
- Julie Turner to be special envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues with the rank of ambassador
- William W. Popp to be ambassador to the Republic of Uganda
- Matthew D. Murray to be US senior official for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation with the rank of ambassador
- Jennifer L. Johnson to be ambassador to the Federated States of Micronesia
- Bryan David Hunt to be ambassador to the Republic of Sierra Leone
- Joel Ehrendreich to be ambassador to the Republic of Palau
- Jack A. Markell to be ambassador to the Italian Republic and to the Republic of San Marino
This story has been updated with additional details.