President Joe Biden faces a new challenge that comes often Commitment to diversity In his administration: assembling the diplomatic corps that nods to major political allies and donors while adhering to the campaign pledge to appoint American-like ambassadors.
More than three months into his administration, Biden has submitted only 11 candidatures as ambassador and has more than 80 vacancies to fill around the world. Administration officials indicated this week that Biden is ready to ramp up the nominations of ambassadors as the president prepares to travel abroad and is paying more attention to global efforts to combat the coronavirus.
Lobbying for the coveted ambassadorial positions has intensified – including the dozens of assignments former presidents often dispense with as rewards to political allies and major donors. These appointments often come with the expectation that recruiters can pay the entertainment bill on behalf of the United States in more expensive and high-end capitals.
But as he did with his cabinet meeting and the appointment of senior advisors, Biden is attaching importance to expanding representation in what has historically been one of the least diverse areas of government, White House officials say.
“The president looks to make sure that the people he represents – not just in the United States, but around the world – represent the country’s diversity,” White House Press Secretary Jane Psaki told reporters this week.
Presidents on both sides of the aisle have rewarded major donors and supporters with a large chunk of requested embassies. About 44% of Donald Trump’s ambassadorial appointments were politically appointed, compared to 31% for Barack Obama and 32% for George W. Bush, according to the American Foreign Service Association. Biden hopes to keep political appointments at about 30% of who select ambassadors, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak about internal discussions.
Most of the political appointees are donor, a small group made up mostly of white men, who have little influence over foreign policy. Occasionally, they were the source of a presidential headache.
Among the Trump appointees was hotel manager and inaugural million dollar contributor Gordon Sondland, who served as chief envoy to the European Union. Sondland provided Foul testimony About Trump during his first trial, which centered on allegations that Trump sought help from Ukrainian authorities to undermine Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Sondland was later fired by Trump.
Jeffrey Ross Günther, Trump’s donor-turned-envoy, left locals in Reykjavik, Iceland, which is relatively crime-free, upset by his request to hire armed bodyguards. In Britain, Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson He faced charges He tried to direct the British Open Golf Championship towards the Trump resort in Scotland and made racist and sexual comments.
In 2014, the American Foreign Service Association called out New tips To ensure ambassadors meet certain qualifications to fill senior diplomatic posts after a series of embarrassing affirmation hearings involving top Obama fundraisers. At least three of the Obama nominees – for Norway, Argentina and Iceland – conceded during the confirmation hearings that they had never been to the countries in which they would serve.
Cynthia Strom, another big Obama donor, had a one-year tour of Luxembourg that was filled with personal struggles, verbal abuse and questionable expenditures on travel, wine and alcoholic beverages, according to an internal State Department report.
So far, Biden has appointed two politicians – retired Foreign Service officer Linda Thomas Greenfield for the United Nations ambassador and Obama’s deputy labor secretary Christopher Law for another ambassador to the United Nations; Thomas Greenfield is Black, Lou, who is awaiting Senate confirmation, and he’s an Asian American.
His other nine candidates are all longtime professional foreign service personnel, chosen to head diplomatic missions in Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, Lesotho, Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Somalia and Vietnam.
The maneuvering for the ambassadorial positions began shortly after Biden was elected and heated up after administration officials indicated the president was looking to start filling vacancies before his first trip abroad next month.
Cindy McCain, widow of Republican Senator John McCain and a longtime friend of the President and First Lady Jill Biden, is under consideration for an ambassadorial position, including leading the United Nations World Food Program. Ram Emanuel, a former Chicago mayor and congressman from Illinois and Obama’s chief of staff, is in contention to serve as ambassador to Japan after becoming He missed the position of transport secretaryAccording to people familiar with the ongoing deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
Biden also pays close attention to former Foreign Service officer Nicholas Burns, who served as Under Secretary of State under George W. Bush and envoy of the United States to Greece and NATO, becoming ambassador to China. Thomas Nides, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida, are under consideration for appointing an ambassador to Israel.
The White House declined to comment on any of the possible options.
Of the 104 diplomats currently serving or running for ambassador-level positions, 39 are women and 10 are of color. According to the Leadership Council for Women in National SecurityIt is a bipartisan group of national security experts.
In an open letter organized by the Leadership Council and ambassadors working in America, a group of more than 30 former US ambassadors urged Biden to prioritize gender equality in his choices of female ambassadors and other high-level positions in the national security arena.
Former ambassadors said to Biden, “As you build your diplomatic leadership, we hope you pay attention to the growing allies within the United States government who will also focus on the diversity that America’s representatives in the world have to show.”
During the transition period, Rep. Veronica Escobar and Joaquin Castro, both Democrats from Texas, wrote a joint letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urging the administration to address “the persistence of serious disparities in the representation of racial and ethnic minorities in the diplomatic service.”
To that end, the State Department last month appointed veteran diplomat Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley as the first in charge of diversity and inclusion. Abercrombie-Winstanley will be the key person in a management-level effort to enhance the recruitment, retention, and promotion of minority Foreign Service officers.
In announcing her appointment, Blinken noted the “disturbing lack of diversity at the highest levels of the State Department” during the Trump administration, but said the issue was much deeper.
He said, “The truth is that this problem is as old as the department itself.”
As a candidate, Biden refused to rule out appointing political donors to embassies or other positions if elected. But he pledged that his candidates would be them “best people” For their posts.
Biden promised: “In reality, no one will be appointed by me based on anything they have contributed.”
Ronald Newman, former ambassador to Afghanistan, Algeria and Bahrain, said the Biden team initially made progress in diversifying the senior ranks of the State Department.
He noted the nomination of Donald Law, the diplomatic career officer, for the position of the next Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and Brian Nichols To be the first envoy to Latin America. Nichols would be the first black assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs since the late 1970s. Luo is Asian American.
Additionally, State Department spokesperson Ned Price is the first openly gay man to serve in the role. His main vice president, Galina Porter, is the first black woman to hold the position.
“I think the administration finds a good balance between experienced and seasoned Foreign Service officers who come from a variety of backgrounds,” said Newman, who heads the American Academy of Diplomacy.
Newman said finding good choices from the donor community for Biden could be more difficult, adding, “I don’t know how you can search for qualified, senior donors from a group that may be of limited diversity.”
Associated Press diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.