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White House addresses ambassador backlog

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

(This post has been updated.)

The White House weighed in Tuesday — we believe for the first time in a while  — about the Senate GOP’s unwillingness to confirm President Obama’s ambassadorial nominees, whether they be political fundraisers or career diplomats.

On his second day on the job, Press Secretary Josh Earnest began his daily briefing with a short lecture on the subject.

“It’s time Republicans in the Senate ended their obstruction and allowed these qualified individuals to do their important work protecting American interests around the world,” he said.

Earnest acknowledged this is “a topic that you may not have previously been following” (Loop fans would disagree), and blamed Republicans for “playing political games.” He decried the lengthy delays in confirming the nominees – 48 nominated and 26 of those through committee, according to Earnest – whose suitcases are collecting dust as they await Senate confirmation. The average wait time is over eight months, Earnest said.

A reporter asked Earnest about Democrats’ opposition to one particular political appointee – Chartwell Hotels founder George Tsunis – who bungled his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Republican charge that the White House is sending “unqualified political nominees.”

Showing he’s adept at the podium, Earnest sidestepped by saying most of the nominees are career diplomats. He then went on to say, “it is shortsighted to automatically rule out nominees that aren’t career foreign service officers.”

Of course the Senate has confirmed its share of political appointees, more often than not known as Obama mega-bundlers, but it’s been a few weeks. In the spring, the Senate sent campaign donors Dwight Bush to Morocco, Tim Broas to the Netherlands and Suzi LeVine to Switzerland.

While the White House hasn’t made this a high priority, the State Department and Foreign Relations Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) have made it a front-burner concern. Menendez last week went to the Senate floor to blast the inaction.

“Mr. President, no nation can hear what we have to say if we are not there,” Menendez said on June 18, “if we have no voice, and so it is not an overstatement to say that our national security is affected by Republican non-cooperation.”

On Tuesday, Menendez’s committee approved eleven nominees to send to the Senate floor. They include career officers to some pretty important posts: Egypt, Iraq, Qatar, Argentina and Korea.

UPDATE: Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s deputy chief of staff Don Stewart threw it back at the Democrats in an e-mail to the Loop:

“But Sen. Reid schedules the floor and he’s been prioritizing judges over bundlers. But I’m sure the White House knows how to contact Sen. Reid about his scheduling decisions and doesn’t need to communicate with him through a blog post or the daily press briefing.”

Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.
Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

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