Updated 5:47 p.m. | Just as the Senate was departing for the Presidents Day recess, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz relented on a blockade of political nominees at the State Department.
The list confirmed by voice vote Friday includes Thomas A. Shannon Jr., to be undersecretary for political affairs and Brian Egan to be legal adviser, as well as Azita Raji to be ambassador to Sweden and Samuel D. Heins for the posting in Norway.
Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, had said in a letter to President Barack Obama last summer that he planned, "to block all nominees for the Department of State and hold any legislation that reauthorizes funds for the Department of State," until receiving assurances related to the international nuclear agreement with Iran; it later became clear he did not include career foreign service officers in that rolling objection.
As the hold on the State Department nominees was lifted, Cruz managed to secure Senate passage, also by voice vote, of a measure to designate the area outside the new Chinese Embassy along Van Ness Street in Northwest D.C., as the "Liu Xiaobo Plaza." That would honor the pro-democracy leader and longtime political prisoner.
Despite the easy Senate passage, the White House was quick to make a veto threat.
"While we continue to impress upon China the imperative of respecting human rights and releasing Liu Xiaobo, as well as other political prisoners, we do not believe Senator Cruz's ploy to rename a street in Washington, DC is an effective way to achieve either goal. In fact, legislative stunts such as this complicate our efforts," a White House official said in a statement. "We oppose this approach and would prefer to work with Congress on more productive ways to address our shared goal of improving human rights in China and around the world."
Cruz had faced objections previously to calling up and passing that legislation, including from California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The measure now goes to the House.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has taken the floor repeatedly in recent weeks to seek consent to confirm the Raji and Heins nominations, with other Democrats highlighting a broader blockade of nominations. Foreign Relations ranking Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H. have made similar requests.
Fellow presidential candidate and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has maintained a hold on Obama's choice of Roberta Jacobson to be the top U.S. diplomat in Mexico.
Other nominations confirmed during Friday's brief session of the Senate include ambassadors to Trinidad and Tobago and Luxembourg.
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