The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Richard Grenell — a Republican commentator, operative and former aide to new national security adviser John Bolton — as the next ambassador to Germany, despite objections from Democrats that his past epithets about prominent female politicians made him unfit for the job.
The vote of 56 to 42 establishes Grenell as the U.S. envoy to Berlin just in advance of a planned Friday visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the United States. Merkel’s visit is expected to be a testier and less festive affair than the reception President Trump offered French President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week.
But their coordinated visits are considered critical to setting the tone for U.S.-European cooperation as the traditional allies grapple with and clash over dealing with issues such as Russian aggression, environmental preservation and an upcoming deadline to preserve the Iran nuclear deal.
Grenell worked on restrictions and sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions as the long-serving spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration — where he worked with Bolton during his stint as U.N. ambassador. Since leaving the government, he has been openly critical of the Iran deal, calling it “a direct blow to the U.N.’s credibility” and the negotiations that led to it “a colossal and dangerous waste of time.”
Grenell’s policy views, however, are not at the heart of the objections against him. Instead, Democrats have focused on the undiplomatic tone Grenell has struck in several comments on his Twitter profile and as a frequent commentator on Fox News, where he has jeered about the appearance of several high-profile political women, including Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Callista Gingrich, Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican.
“You know, respect for women and for people of different views and whatnot are essential for an ambassador, anywhere in the world,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told reporters Wednesday, pointing out that he has voted for Trump nominees with conservative policy views. “This person doesn’t clearly have, for my mind, the temperament to be the type of ambassador we want, especially to Germany, for which we have a rocky relationship right now under this administration and is one of the critical allies that we need in Europe for about everything that we want . . . including the Iran deal.”
“I hope he doesn’t start tweeting about Chancellor Merkel if he gets the position,” Menendez added.
During his confirmation hearing, Grenell addressed the complaints about his sharp-tongued quips about female political figures, saying that he had meant them to be funny but did “regret” those comments now — and that he would conduct himself differently as an ambassador.
“There are times where what was intended to be humorous turned out to be not so humorous,” he told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last September. “When you are speaking as a U.S. official, it’s not your opinion that you are pushing but it’s a well-thought-out U.S. policy. . . . I look forward to taking it on, that role again, where it’s a well-thought-out U.S. policy, not my opinion.”
Republicans cheered Grenell’s confirmation as long overdue. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) accused Democrats of displaying “extreme partisanship . . . toward Mr. Grenell, a highly qualified nominee from President Trump,” adding that the slight to Grenell “will be remembered.”
With the confirmation vote, Grenell becomes the most senior openly gay person to join the Trump administration.
Anne Gearan contributed to this report.