Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) has taken a previously private dispute with Sen. James Webb (D-Va.) public, after Wolf was unable to convince Webb to lift a hold on legislation creating a new State Department special envoy for religious minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.
Wolf, a longtime backer of human rights issues, introduced his bill to establish the post in January 2011, and the measure passed the House by a huge margin last July. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) has offered a companion measure in his chamber, but Webb — a prominent Senate voice on Asia policy — has put a hold on the bill, blocking it from being considered.
Wolf said in a news release Thursday that he had discussed the issue with Webb and his staff but had been unable to convince his fellow Virginian to change his mind. In a letter sent to Webb Wednesday night, Wolf said he “cannot understand why” the hold had been placed on a bill that might help Coptic Christians and other groups “who face daily persecution, hardship, violence, instability and even death.”
“If I believed that religious minorities, especially in these strategic regions, were getting the attention warranted at the State Department, I would cease in pressing for passage of this legislation,” Wolf said in the letter. “Sadly, that is far from being the case. We must act now.”
Webb spokesman Will Jenkins explained the hold by saying that “after considering the legislation, Senator Webb asked the State Department for its analysis.”
In a position paper issued in response, State Department officials said “we oppose the bill as it infringes on the Secretary’s flexibility to make appropriate staffing decisions,” and suggested the duties of Wolf’s proposed envoy would overlap with several existing positions.
“The new special envoy position is unnecessary, duplicative, and likely counterproductive,” the State Department said.