The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion America is shorthanded in foreign affairs. Thanks, Ted Cruz.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Oct. 7. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)

This is a troubled time around the world. The pandemic has strained many governments, closing borders and threatening economies; authoritarianism is on the march; conflicts bring misery in Yemen and Ethiopia and elsewhere. It is not a good time for the United States to be shorthanded in foreign affairs.

Yet the nation is severely short-staffed, thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has put a hold on dozens of nominations that have reached the Senate floor, including seven ambassadors and top State Department and Agency for International Development officials, by refusing to grant unanimous consent to confirm them. Nine months into the new administration, the Senate has confirmed one — you read that correctly — just one Biden nominee as a country ambassador, Ken Salazar to Mexico. President Biden hasn’t been as prompt as he should in nominating a full team, but there are many more nominees in the pipeline who will need confirmation. Instead, we are getting a hollowed-out Foreign Service and ambassadorial corps.

Mr. Cruz has led a campaign to block Russia from building the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea to Germany. It will carry exported Russian gas, bypassing Ukraine, a U.S. ally. Mr. Biden in May waived sanctions on the nearly complete pipeline to cement ties with Germany. Mr. Cruz says the sanctions were overwhelmingly approved by Congress and must be imposed on the Russian-backed company building the pipeline. He is holding up Mr. Biden’s nominees as a pressure tactic. Meanwhile, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is upset about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and is vowing to hold up all of Mr. Biden’s national security nominees.

The pipeline raises important issues that demand attention, but this is not the way to get it. Mr. Cruz is putting sand in the gears of government and displays an indifference to the hard work of maintaining U.S. leadership abroad. U.S. ambassadors, both political and career, serve as eyes and ears of the nation and are critical to carrying out U.S. priorities and policy. So are the assistant secretaries of state and other officials awaiting confirmation. Damaging the diplomatic capabilities of the U.S. government hardly seems like a smart way to make a point about a foreign policy issue.

The Senate could bypass Mr. Cruz by devoting hours of floor debate to each nominee, but then legislative debate suffers. The Senate confirmation process is woefully outdated and should be streamlined so that more appointees can take office sooner. According to the tracker by The Post and the Partnership for Public Service, monitoring 803 government positions among about 1,200 that require Senate confirmation, Mr. Biden has picked 390 nominees, of which 12 are awaiting formal nomination, 224 are awaiting action in the Senate, and 154 have been confirmed. No nominee has been selected for 200 positions.

This is no way to run a government.