Senate confirms John Tefft as new ambassador to Russia

BY Donna Cassata, Associated Press  August 1, 2014 at 10:19 AM EST

WASHINGTON — After a period in limbo with a slew of other nominees to be U.S. diplomats around the world, John Tefft gained Senate confirmation Thursday night as America’s new envoy to Russia.

Sen. Mike Enzi didn’t make it easy.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State via Wikimedia Commons

When the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey, sought approval of several diplomats in a single vote late Thursday, Enzi objected. That put off all those nominations just as the Senate prepared for its August recess.

Enzi, R-Wyo., had been unhappy with the decision last year by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to limit filibusters for most presidential nominations.

In turn, blocking Tefft’s confirmation made White House staffer Ben Rhodes unhappy. “How can people criticize the president for being ‘disengaged’ on Russia and then block the confirmation of an ambassador to Russia?” tweeted Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

A short time later, however, the Senate took up the nomination of Tefft and confirmed the career diplomat by voice vote. Ambassadors for Turkey, Guatemala and several other nations were left in limbo.

In spite of Enzi’s action, Tefft’s confirmation was remarkably fast because the Foreign Relations Committee had cleared it only Tuesday. With his deep experience in eastern European affairs — he had been ambassador to Ukraine under Obama and ambassador to Georgia under President George W. Bush — Tefft himself had drawn little but praise as a nominee for the post in Moscow.

Meanwhile, dozens of other diplomatic nominees await confirmation by the Senate, which will be on summer break for the next five weeks.