US senator Ted Cruz is blocking president Joe Biden from appointing ambassadors and hindering climate diplomacy, analysts have warned.
Since Biden came to power, just 19 State Department staff have been appointed while 77 nominees are currently waiting for Senate approval, many of them blocked by Cruz.
Embassies without ambassadors include those in China, India, Canada, the EU, France, Germany, Japan, Turkey and a host of smaller nations.
The Texas Republican is using his membership of the Senate foreign relations committee to slow walk appointments, in protest at the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.
Cruz is calling on Biden to impose sanctions over the pipeline, which he told the Senate would be “a massive multi-billion gift to [Russian president Vladimir] Putin, strengthening Russia and weakening US national security interests”.
E3G’s US director Claire Healy told Climate Home News that Cruz was being “short-sighted”.
In such a critical year for the climate, she said “it doesn’t help that in many spots around the world, you don’t have the highest representative of the US president on the ground engaging political leaders in that country”.
“The candidates have been named. They’re good candidates with close ties to the president. It’s hurting our chances of success this year at getting countries to cooperate on Covid recovery and climate action,” she added.
She said ambassadors are “critical” in communicating the US’s foreign policy priorities. At the start of his term, Joe Biden said climate change would be “an essential element of US foreign policy”.
Empty posts are usually filled by a temporary caretaker.
But Loren DeJonge Schulman, who monitors appointments for Partnership for Public Service, tweeted: “The US has experienced the risk and results of empty ambassador roles all year.”
She added: “Substitute teachers, no matter how qualified, do not have the authority, reach, or credibility of the person hired for the role.”
Senior diplomatic roles are usually approved by the Senate foreign relations committee. If there is no consensus at committee level, the appointments can be sent to a vote in the full Senate, but Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer has declined to dedicate valuable debate time to the matter.
That has allowed Cruz to obstruct the process and gain publicity for his crusade against Nord Stream 2.
Nord Stream 2 is controversial in Europe for various reasons.
The government of Ukraine opposes it as a way for Russian gas company Gazprom to avoid the transit fees it currently pays to send gas through Ukraine.
Environmentalists, including the powerful German Green Party, argue installing new fossil fuel infrastructure undermines Europe’s transition to clean energy.
But German chancellor Angela Merkel and German businesses support the pipeline as a way to diversify energy supply.
From a US perspective, fossil fuel producers see Nord Stream 2 as a boost for the Russian gas industry, a competitor for the lucrative European energy market.
Marina Tsygankova, gas analyst at Refinitiv, told Climate Home News that Nord Stream 2 would give Russia an option to increase the amount of gas it sends to Europe.
Talking about Nord Stream 2 on his Verdict podcast, Cruz said: “It would be much better for Europe for them to be importing energy from America, creating jobs in the USA rather than them be enriching Putin.”
Cruz has accepted campaign donations from several fossil fuel firms. In his ten-year career, he has received $110,000 from Exxon Mobil and smaller amounts from Moncrief Oil, Wapiti Energy and Saulsbury Industries.
He has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars of his personal money in oil and gas firms like Exxon Mobil and Chevron.
The state of Texas, which Ted Cruz represents, is the US’s largest producer of oil and gas.
In July, he said he was considering another run to be US President after he was defeated by Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2016.
Democratic senator Robert Menendez, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, has accused Cruz of being motivated by personal ambition.
“Maybe it’s your presidential aspirations, I don’t know, but you’re turning to political purposes,” Menendez told Cruz in the Senate in July. “You held over every nominee. Every nominee! I’ve never seen that.”