Obama and Biden have managed to get a few ambassador confirmations while on the road

Colby Itkowitz
Reporter March 27

President Obama may have learned Wednesday how to break through the months-long Senate logjam on his ambassadorial nominations: He or Vice President Biden must travel to the countries where nominees would be headed.

Problem is, they often won’t be going to pleasant countries such as England, Spain or Germany, but rather to gritty or diplomatically dicey or even dangerous spots such as Yemen, Kuwait, Albania, Timor-Leste, Sierrra Leone, Niger or Colombia.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop. View Archive

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate confirmed Joe Westphal, a political appointee and former assistant Army secretary, to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia — just in time, maybe, to get there when Obama visits Friday. (He was nominated in November.)

Earlier this month, career Foreign Service officer Mike Hammer was confirmed to his post in Chile — a few days before Biden landed there for the inauguration of a new president. (Hammer was nominated last June.) And, a week later, political appointee Tim Broas, nominated in July, was confirmed for the Netherlands — in time for Obama’s visit this week.

Still, 40-some ambassadorial nominees — half of them career Foreign Service officers — remain trapped in the fallout of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “nuclear option” in November, when the Democrats eliminated filibusters on most nominees.

Furious Republicans began forcing time-consuming cloture votes on nominees, reducing confirmations to a trickle.

Nearly 30 percent of the approximately 145 Obama nominees twisting slowly above the Senate floor are for ambassadorships. Oh, and many of those career Foreign Service officers — who have served Republican and Democratic presidents — have been confirmed before by the Senate for overseas posts. No matter.

The focus of GOP indignation is naturally the political nominees — including several who have drawn media attention for their cluelessness. But career Foreign Service folks are stuck.

Biden may want to keep his bags packed.

Family ties

In Philadelphia, a congressman’s son pursued by the FBI sued the agency (and the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department) for just under $10 million worth of damage to his personal and professional reputation.

Meanwhile in Washington, his father, Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), ensured FBI Director James Comey that the agency had Congress’s support.

Chaka Fattah Jr. added the FBI to his lawsuit on Tuesday. The next day, as the agency received its official summons, his father — coincidentally the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Justice Department funding — was face to face with Comey.

“We want to make sure that the one issue that you’re not focused on is money,” Fattah told the director. “And our job is to appropriate the money, so we need to hear from you today about what it is that you see that you need so that we can find a way to provide it.”

(Like a few extra million to settle a lawsuit?)

In 2012, the younger Fattah’s Philadelphia apartment and office were raided by the feds as part of a criminal investigation into his finances. In a 51-page complaint he filed himself with the U.S. District Court, Fattah claims federal officials unlawfully leaked the raid to Philadelphia media, resulting in a “virtual storm of negative publicity.” He’s suing for “emotional distress, loss of income . . . significant and actual economic harm to his reputation.”

The FBI neither confirms nor denies the existence of a probe. A spokeswoman in the Philly field office said she could not comment on pending litigation.

We asked Rep. Fattah about his ultimate political struggle — for love or country. In an e-mail to the Loop, he wrote:

“Attorney General Holder and FBI Director Comey appreciate my work and commitment to funding their respective agencies. As a Member of Congress, I swore an oath to protect every American’s constitutional rights. My son, who I love, is no exception.”

The Cabinet is full

The Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed the nomination of California banker Maria Contreras-Sweet to serve as the next administrator of the Small Business Administration, filling the president’s last Cabinet-rank vacancy.

The Mexican-born Contreras-Sweet, who had been secretary of California’s Business, Transportation and Housing Agency, is the second Hispanic — and seventh woman — among the 22 officials in Cabinet or Cabinet-level positions. In announcing her selection in January, Obama noted that she had founded a community bank that helped fund small businesses in Latino neighborhoods.

She replaces Karen Mills, who announced 14 months ago she was leaving the agency and left in August for a job at Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government.

From jihads to besties

At one point, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) were the top contenders for Quote of the Week.

Kirk told the Chicago Sun-Times that he would not be actively campaigning against his Senate colleague Richard Durbin (D-Ill.): “I’m going to be protecting my relationship with Dick and not launching into a partisan jihad that hurts our partnership to both pull together for Illinois.”

Then Brown, the Massachusetts-turned-New Hampshire politician, said this when asked about his ties to the Granite State: “Do I have the best credentials? Probably not. Cause, you know, whatever. But I have long and strong ties to this state.”

But the winner is Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who, in describing her relationship with Hillary Clinton after she backed Obama in 2008, said the two were “fine” but added: “Are we besties for the rest of our lives? No.”

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter:@InTheLoopWP.

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