Abby Livingston

Ted Cruz stokes feud over national security by delaying dozens of Biden’s ambassador nominations

By Abby Livingston and Bethany Irvine, The Texas Tribune

Oct. 27, 2021

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz delays dozens of President Joe Biden's ambassador nominations, stoking feud over national security" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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WASHINGTON — By this point in the Trump administration, Kay Bailey Hutchison, a former U.S. senator from Texas, had been settled into her new Brussels-based post as NATO ambassador for several months. But Julianne Smith, nominated to succeed her by President Joe Biden in June, is still waiting in the wings for Senate confirmation.

The same goes for ambassador nominees for France, India and a number of other nations.

Why the holdup? U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has single-handedly delayed dozens of key Biden administration nominees, mostly concentrated in the State Department, in retaliation for a Biden decision to drop U.S. opposition to a Russian pipeline to Germany.

Cruz's actions are raising alarms from Democrats and White House officials about national security concerns.

“The president's weakness and incompetence is what's creating a national security issue," Cruz told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “When he gives a multibillion-dollar pipeline to Vladimir Putin, strengthening Russia and weakening Europe and our allies, it creates a national security issue."

At issue for Cruz is the Russian pipeline called Nord Stream 2, which runs from Russia to Germany by way of an underground route under the Baltic Sea. Several times in the Trump administration — in 2017, 2019 and 2020 — Congress passed sanctions intended to block the pipeline.

In mid-July, Biden agreed to drop opposition to the pipeline, which was nearly complete, as a means to improve the relationship between the U.S. and Germany.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline will compete with pipelines in Ukraine, a country that continues to surface in deeply partisan disputes in the U.S. Members of both parties expressed anger at Biden for the move, but it gave Republicans — whom Democrats accused during the Trump era of going easy on Russia — a way to reset that foreign policy conversation.

Cruz by himself cannot completely block a nomination. However, he can dramatically slow down the process. Traditionally, uncontroversial nominees are confirmed via unanimous consent by the Senate. But Cruz's objection forces the Senate into time-consuming procedural votes for each of the nominees.

The Senate has so far confirmed only four of Biden's U.S. ambassador nominees to foreign governments, according to information gathered by Senate Democratic leadership and shared with The Washington Post.

Cruz did signal that he would lift his hold on Nicholas Burns, whom Biden nominated to serve as ambassador to China, per Bloomberg.

The Partnership for Public Service, which tracks nominations, reports that there are slightly more Biden confirmations at this point than in the Trump era. But the group's founder and president, Max Stier, said in an interview that confirmations in proportion to the full slate of nominations are moving much more slowly than four years ago.

Even so, Cruz is creating consternation inside of the Treasury Department, at the White House and in international circles.

“It is essential that the Senate confirm these highly qualified nominees who are ready to get to work helping families and small businesses recover from the pandemic, and who are critical to the department's national security objectives of disrupting illicit finance and combatting terrorism," U.S. Treasury Department spokesperson John Rizzo said in an email.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week the administration is “concerned about the obstruction of our nominees," blaming Republicans. But she declined to single out Cruz when asked about the delays last week during a briefing with reporters.

“There have been unprecedented delays, obstruction, holds on qualified individuals from Republicans in the Senate," she said. “So, I would say the blame is clear. It is frustrating."

Stylistically, it's a return to Cruz's all-out opposition in the Obama era that frequently resulted in unpredictability in passing legislation and even a 2013 government shutdown.

In that instance, Cruz followed through on threats to push for a government shutdown if then-President Barack Obama insisted on funding his 2010 health care law. A government shutdown lasted 16 days. Republicans took a brief hit in polling, but Cruz emerged as a national figure with the GOP base ahead of his 2016 presidential campaign.

“This risks being hyperbolic, but it's like negotiating with a terrorist," U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut said about Cruz's holds on nominees to The Washington Post. “He is not the secretary of state. The people of this country did not elect him or his party to represent us abroad. And what he's asking for is to control American foreign policy."

Stier said senators have long used holds as leverage for policy demands, but suggested it is a less-than-ideal approach to governance.

“It's damaging," he added. “Is Sen. Cruz unique? I don't know if I can answer that question. There are other examples of other senators in this current setting who've held up nominees that are related to the department in which they're going to work and sometimes not."

But the political strategy comes with risks.

Stier pointed with alarm to the 9/11 Commission Report that stated that the government might have been able to fend off the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had more confirmed individuals been in place. Stier said that on that date, former President George W. Bush had 57% of nominees in place. On Sept. 11 this year, Biden had 26% of his nominees in place.

“This is real," he said. “This is bad."

Presidents prior to President Donald Trump had much easier paths to confirmation for their diplomats. But according to the Partnership for Public Service, the Senate slowed down the pace of confirmations when Trump took office. Republicans controlled the Senate then, but Democrats easily had the 40 votes needed to block a confirmation vote.

With Democrats trying to move nominations this time around, Republicans are exacting political payback in slowing down the Biden nominations.

When asked how he would handle being on the other side of a senator's hold on nominations should he ever become president, Cruz defended his actions.

“It depends on what the basis for the hold was," Cruz said. “In this instance, my holds are in place to pressure the administration to follow the law."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/10/27/ted-cruz-joe-biden-ambassador-nominations/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas electors refuse to admit Trump’s defeat, pressure battleground states to overturn election

The Electoral College on Monday affirmed former Vice President Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election, but not before Texas' 38 electors delivered their votes for Donald Trump and defiantly urged the legislatures of four swing states to overrule the will of their voters and appoint their own electors.

The call from the Texas electors came in the form of a resolution they passed 34-4, but it had no impact on the results. The four states — Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania — had already cast their votes by that time, and soon after, California cast its 55 votes for Biden and pushed him over the 270 number he needed to win the presidency.

Nonetheless, the resolution continued the practice of many Texas Republicans of baselessly questioning Biden's victory and claiming fraud.

The resolution also “condemn[ed] the lack of action by the U.S. Supreme Court" to overturn the election results. There was a brief debate among electors over whether they should keep language in the resolution denouncing members of the U.S. Supreme Court for “moral cowardice." On Friday, the high court briskly rejected a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton that sought to overturn the election results and had become a vehicle for Republicans across the country to contest Biden's victory.

One elector said the inclusion of the Supreme Court language would make Texas appear “childish, impertinent and angry." An amendment deleting the language eventually prevailed.

Biden won 306 pledged electoral votes in the November election, but Trump — along with many Texas Republicans — has refused to accept defeat and waged a legal and political campaign to get certain swing states to undo the results. Typically, the meeting of the Electoral College is a mostly ignored formality. But Republicans' continued disputes of the election caused this year's vote to take on a rare public fascination.

The Texas resolution drew a mocking reaction from the Democratic lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, John Fetterman.

“We'll get right on that," he wrote on Twitter, followed by a post mocking the Dallas Cowboys.

In a statement, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa condemned some Texas Republicans for trying “to subvert the will of the people and change the election results to keep Trump in power."

“They failed miserably, but the effects of their brazen disregard for democracy will be felt for a long time," he said.

There has been no credible evidence of widespread fraud in the election, but Trump and other Republicans have repeatedly alleged it. Numerous lawsuits filed by the Trump legal team claiming or raising questions of fraud were thrown out of state and federal court. Even so, Paxton launched a last-ditch legal effort to overturn the election results last week, only to be soundly rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the suit, he claimed that pandemic-era changes to election procedures in those states violated federal law and asked the high court to block the states from voting in the Electoral College.

Many leading Texas Republicans were supportive of Paxton's effort. More than a dozen Texans in Congress signed an amicus brief endorsing Paxton's tactic. Ted Cruz, the state's junior U.S. senator, agreed at the president's request to argue the case before the high court if it were heard.

In claiming victory Monday night, Biden addressed the lawsuit in his remarks.

“It's a position so extreme, we'd never seen it before," he said. “A position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law and refused to honor our Constitution."

The state's senior senator, John Cornyn, questioned Paxton's legal theory, however. When asked at the U.S. Capitol on Monday whether Biden is the president-elect, Cornyn responded in the affirmative.

“I would say that subject to any other litigation that could occur between now and Jan. 20, the answer is yes," he said, according to Politico.

U.S. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, also acknowledged Biden's victory.

“Our Constitution defines the process for electing the President," Taylor said in a statement. “Today, the Electoral College voted and on January 20th, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Anne and I extend our prayers and well wishes to the Biden and Harris families as they prepare for this momentous undertaking."

Cruz, meanwhile, stopped short of admitting Trump's defeat, but said Monday night on a campaign telephone town hall that “it is very, very uphill right now."

“Clearly if something significant doesn't change, then Biden and Kamala Harris are on a path to being the next president and vice president," he said. “I hope something significant changes."

Last week, state Republican Party Chair Allen West made national news after the Supreme Court's decision by suggesting that states opposed to the ruling “should bond together and form a Union ... that will abide by the constitution."

The next — and final step before inauguration — will be Jan. 6, when the states send their votes to the U.S. Capitol, where they will be tallied in a joint session of the newly sworn in U.S. Senate and House. The Texas electors' resolution Monday urged lawmakers from the four swing states to object to their electors if they are not replaced by their legislators.

A copy of the resolution approved by Texas electors Monday.

In most circumstances, electors follow the will of the state's voters. But in 2016, two Texas electors refused to vote for Trump — one voted for then-Gov. John Kasich of Ohio and another cast a ballot for a fellow Texan, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Their dissent triggered Gov. Greg Abbott to push for a bill that would “bind" Texas' Electoral College members to the result of the statewide popular vote. The measure failed.

In Texas, Trump decisively defeated Biden, but the margin — 5.6% — was the closest between the two parties since 1996.

Electors are often low-profile party fixtures within the state's political world, but this year's Republican lot included state Rep. Briscoe Cain of Deer Park. There are 538 electors total.

Hours before Monday's meeting, even with Texas slated to deliver its votes to Trump, several Republicans suggested that the nation's election results were not yet settled.

“The Electoral College is casting their votes," tweeted U.S. Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Terrell. “Democrats will soon say it is time to move on. They are 100% WRONG. We should not move on until the massive claims of voter fraud are answered and addressed!"

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, an Austin Republican, released a statement Monday afternoon saying “there's no question about the outcomes in Texas, despite the millions upon millions that Democrats desperately poured into races all over the place." But he followed up with a call for for answers to “some legitimate questions" raised about “what went on in" races in other states.

Patrick Svitek contributed reporting.

Disclosure: Politico has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/12/14/texas-electoral-college/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas GOP rep says it’s time for Donald Trump to 'move on'

"U.S. Rep. Kay Granger says it's time for Donald Trump to “move on" as most Texas Republicans remain silent" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, a high-ranking member of Texas' congressional delegation who is respected among her peers, said Friday she has “great concerns" about President Donald Trump's continued efforts to overturn the country's election results after his defeat by President-elect Joe Biden.

“I have great concerns about it," she told CNN on Friday morning. “I think that it's time to move on."

“I think it's time for him to really realize and be very clear about what's going on," she added, when asked if the president should concede.

Granger's statements are only exceptional in the context of current Republican politics. Trump has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the election results, and for the most part Texas Republicans in Congress have either stayed silent or also questioned the results without providing evidence of fraud on a level that would change the election's outcome. Trump's legal team has lost dozens of cases in court alleging voter fraud.

Biden led Trump in the popular vote by about 6 million votes as of Friday afternoon, and all national news organizations project Biden will carry the Electoral College, 306-232. Even so, Trump campaign attorneys continue to wage their legal battle. And given its setbacks in court, the team has since turned to other methods to subvert the results, including setting up a White House meeting Friday with Republican legislative leaders from Michigan as the state prepares to certify its vote totals. Biden defeated Trump by 156,000 votes in Michigan.

The fear among many in American politics is not that Trump has any serious path to overturn the results, but that his efforts will undermine public confidence in an election that the Department of Homeland Security official who oversees the country's cybersecurity, Christopher Krebs, described as “the most secure in American history." On Tuesday, Trump fired Krebs via Twitter.

But among Republican officeholders, few are pushing back against the president. Most Texas Republicans remain silent, and some Trump loyalists, including U.S. Rep.-elect Ronny Jackson, who was just elected to a heavily Republican seat in the Panhandle, are offering up support to Trump.

Granger's comments are notable, however, since she is no mere rank-and-file member of Congress. She is the most senior female Republican in the House GOP conference and is known as a mentor to many younger female Republican members — a group that will swell in membership early next year. Also in January, Granger will share with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, the title of dean of the Texas Republican delegation in the new Congress.

She is perhaps the Texas Republican in the U.S. House who is held in the highest regard among her peers. Two years ago, she won a fierce battle for the Republican leadership of the House Appropriations Committee and is poised to take over possibly the most coveted post in the House — chair of the Appropriations Committee — if Republicans take back control of the U.S. House in 2022.

But earlier this year, she faced her toughest fight ever in her GOP primary. Republican Chris Putnam challenged her for the party nomination in the heavily Republican district, and his central case against her was that she was not adequately supportive of Trump. Granger won that race by a 16-point margin, thanks in part to Trump's endorsement. In late 2019, months before the primary, she was seen in a luxury box with the president at the World Series.

Granger's comments came a day after a press conference at the Republican National Committee's Washington headquarters in which Trump's personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, led a team of lawyers in issuing allegations without evidence that charged a sweeping Democratic conspiracy to win the election.

Another Texas Republican, Jackson, expressed support for the efforts and retweeted a video in which Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell claimed the team would produce evidence that Trump won the 2020 election in a landslide. Powell has repeatedly ignored requests to produce credible evidence supporting her claims. Jackson served as the physician to Trump, and the pair shared an affectionate friendship.

Most other Texas Republicans have not addressed the matter in public since Giuliani's news conference.

Democrats, meanwhile, are ringing alarms that a lack of Trump administration engagement in the transition is beginning to undermine efforts to put the Biden administration in position to combat the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office in January. A number have recalled the 9/11 Commission Report's warnings that the delayed transition between the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations may have been a contributing factor to the federal government's inability to stop the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Democrats are privately simmering, and the anger is beginning to boil over publicly.

“The orderly transfer of power has been a bedrock of American democracy," wrote U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso. “The consequences of @realDonaldTrump's temper tantrum and refusal to cooperate with President-elect @JoeBiden are far-reaching and deadly for Americans."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/20/kay-granger-donald-trump/.

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