CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming’s senior U.S. senator is under fire for his actions during the approval of a handful of diplomats to hot spots throughout the world, such as the U.S. ambassador to Russia, before a scheduled five-week recess.
While the envoy to Moscow ultimately won approval by a voice vote — and U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., joined his colleagues in favor — several other diplomats have not been approved, including one to Guatemala. The Senate is scheduled to return to Washington on Sept. 8.
In his comments objecting to voting on the ambassadors, Enzi talked about the “nuclear option” that Democrats exercised last year, eliminating filibusters for most presidential nominees. Republicans, as the minority party in the Senate, believe they were robbed of a voice in nominations.
“This issue has to do with the institution of the Senate,” Enzi’s spokesman, Daniel Head, wrote in an email Friday.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, sought approval of several diplomats with a single vote, a procedure called voting en bloc, according to The Associated Press.
The envoys, some of whom are career diplomats, had been approved Tuesday in the committee. Menendez called for the vote as the Senate began a five-week recess at the end of Friday.
Before the vote, Enzi approached the microphone.
“Reserving the right to object,” he said. “We used to pass ambassadors and all kinds of people en bloc like that. But we have this nuclear option now that the majority chose, and so it takes a little longer to do the whole process, and on that basis I object.”
Enzi, according to Head, objected to votes three more times.
On Twitter, Norman J. Ornstein, a revered political scientist of the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, wrote: “Blocking ambassadors when the world is in turmoil and America’s national interest is at stake is simply shameful.”
Ben Rhodes, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications and speechwriting, wrote on Twitter: “How can people criticize the President for being ‘disengaged’ on Russia and then block the confirmation of an Ambassador to Russia?”
For more understanding on the nuclear option and Enzi’s reasons for objecting to the vote to approve the ambassadors, Head referred the Star-Tribune to the spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
When the Star-Tribune asked whether Enzi caused the brouhaha under the direction of McConnell, Head emailed in response: “Majority Leader (Harry) Reid, D-Nev., caused this brouhaha (your characterization, not mine) when he invoked the nuclear option in the Senate.”
Enzi objected on behalf of the Republicans in the Senate, said McConnell’s spokesman, Don Stewart.
“He wasn’t saying the ambassador for Russia shouldn’t go through,” Stewart said. “What he was doing was stopping a dog-and-pony show that the Democrats were trying to do. Behind the scenes, we were actually working to get the vote on the Russian ambassador done, and Sen. Enzi pressed pause, basically is what he did, until we could get that worked out and got an agreement.”
Stewart accused the Democrats of delaying the vote on the ambassadors in committee until Tuesday, just a few days before the Senate left town for its August recess, then quickly presenting them for vote on the Senate floor so that senators wouldn’t have enough time to review them.
Countries with ambassadorial nominees up for a vote included Guatemala, Turkey, Turkmenistan, South Korea, Jamaica and Kazakhstan.
“Russia was the priority for the White House, so that’s the one that went to the top of list,” Stewart said.