Senate takes step to fill senior ranks at State Department


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration overcame a significant hurdle Wednesday in its effort to bolster ranks at the State Department.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to advance 23 nominations to senior State Department positions. The nominations included an ambassador to Iraq, an ambassador to Saudi Arabia and two assistant secretaries of state.

Moving forward on nominations was an important step to “get the State Department up and running,” said the committee chair, Republican Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho. But he warned “all is not well,” citing 40 more nominations that the committee has not yet considered.

“I don’t want to escalate this to the point where we start arguing,” Risch told the top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, pledging to keep working on the nominations in a bipartisan fashion.

Menendez shot back that of the 40 people nominated to State Department positions, only seven are ready for a hearing. “The others are not, plain and simple,” Menendez said. He said many of President Donald Trump’s nominees were not vetted properly and others had incomplete files.

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“I’m not responsible for nominees who don’t fill out their files,” Menendez said. “We work extremely hard to do this.”

Menendez cited one case where a nominee was found to be under a restraining order and another where the nominee was found to have made insulting comments about senators on the committee.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged to fill top posts when he took over last year as America’s chief diplomat and has since blamed Senate Democrats for stalling the process.

The State Department lost many of its top diplomats under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who implemented a sweeping redesign of the agency.

Among the 23 nominees advanced Wednesday was retired Gen. John P. Abizaid, nominated for ambassador to Saudi Arabia, and current U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H Tueller, nominated for ambassador to Iraq.

The nominees await confirmation votes from the full Senate.

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