Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer threatened to keep lawmakers eager to return home for Christmas in Washington next week if there is no progress on the backlog of over 70 nominees for ambassadorial posts that still need votes.

Officials from the Biden administration acknowledge that President Obama will probably end his year with more ambassadorial vacancies then any of his predecessors. They also recognize that the slowdown in national security and ambassadorial picks has already had an effect on U.S. relationships overseas.

“It is long past time for GOP senators get out of their way and let Senate quickly confirm these nominees for national security so they can advocate the interests of American people around the globe,” stated Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary.

According to the White House, only 13 of Biden’s 85 nominees for ambassadorial positions have been confirmed by Senate as of Tuesday.

In the previous three administrations, the presidents had more diplomats confirmed and placed at embassies around world. Donald Trump had 44 of his 60 nominees approved, Barack Obama 72 out of 96, George W. Bush, 93 out of 101.

Ted Cruz speaks at a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation meeting in the Russell Senate Office Building, Capitol Hill, Dec. 15, 2021. Chip Somodevilla / Pool via AP

Many of the frustration expressed by the White House and Schumer has been directed at a few Senate Republicans, most notably Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. They have used procedural maneuvering and holds to slow down dozens of ambassador appointments at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State.

Cruz is also under increasing Republican pressure over the hold.

“We just have to get some people in there,” stated Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), pointing out diplomatic vacancies such China and Japan. He said, “It is a dangerous world right now.”

Cruz said Wednesday that he offered to lift 16 nomination holds in return for a Senate vote regarding sanctioning the companies behind Nord Stream 2, a controversial Russia–to-Germany natural-gas pipeline.

Critics from both sides have expressed concern that the pipeline could threaten European energy security. It will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas, and allow Russia to exert political pressure upon vulnerable Eastern and Central European countries, especially Ukraine.

Schumer countered by stating that the Texas Republican must release his hold on all nominees from State and Treasury departments and U.S. Agency for International Development.

Let’s get clear on the nominees. We don’t mean partisan firebrands, or candidates who come from the fringes. Schumer stated that the majority of these people and women are professional public servants who are by-the book, uncontroversial.

Cruz was adamant and suggested that “Schumer has decided he doesn’t want any ambassadors confirmed.” He made a very foolish decision.

The Senate usually confirms noncontroversial nominees for the Pentagon and State Department by unanimous consent. This process doesn’t require the Senate using valuable floor time. Many of those who were held up were approved by the Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, which had broad bipartisan support.

A senator’s hold does not prevent a nominee being confirmed. This takes longer steps to reach a final vote. Currently, Democrats prefer to confirm federal judges.

Biden has nominated 174 individuals for national security posts in the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, which require Senate confirmation. Sixty-three people, or 36% of the total, were confirmed.

Senator John Thune is the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, stated that many Republicans hope Cruz can “find a way forward to collaborate with Democrats to fill some of these positions.”

Thune stated, “I believe there are members who really care about particular areas of the globe where we don’t know ambassadors in place and recognize it’s essential that these get done.”

Despite the backlog, Biden continues sending new nominees to Senate for confirmation.

On Wednesday, the president announced that he would nominate Caroline Kennedy (a former U.S. ambassador to Japan in Obama’s administration) to be his chief envoy and to Australia, and Michelle Kwan, a retired U.S. Olympic figure skating skater, to serve the role of ambassador to Belize.

White House officials publicly praised career foreign service officers for their efforts at embassies in trying to fill the gap while the administration waits to confirm ambassadorial selections.

Officials claim that the blockade already has had a real impact on U.S. foreign policies and national security interests in hotspots around the world.

China is perhaps the most complex and consequential relationship in foreign policy. Biden’s foreign advisers are concerned that China’s lack of a Senate-confirmed diplomat has signaled to Beijing that the U.S. Embassy does not have an envoy who can speak for the president. According to an administration official, who was not allowed to speak publicly and spoke under anonymity.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio announced in November that he had placed a stop to Nicholas Burns’ nomination to China as Ambassador to China. This was in an attempt to pressure Biden to sign bipartisan legislation he coauthored to ban products made from Uyghur forced labor in west China.

Tuesday’s House vote passed the bill. The White House stated that Biden would be working closely with Congress to make it a reality. Rubio stated that he would be open to lifting the block on Burns “if it can get it passed by the White House”.

“I still have doubts about whether he is the right person, but in end, he will get a vote. Rubio stated that the nomination was “an important post.”

Julianne Smith, Biden’s NATO ambassador, was appointed last month after Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Missouri, lifted a hold on her nominating. After Russia had begun to mass thousands of troops at its border with Ukraine, her confirmation vote was unanimous.

Russia indicated that Russia’s military maneuvers — which have put Washington and most of Europe on high alert for a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine — were tied to NATO’s expansion to Ukraine.

Hawley placed restrictions on the nominations of other State Department officials to express his disapproval at the administration’s handling the chaotic U.S. withdrawal form Afghanistan.

To become Ambassador to Turkey, former Senator Jeff Flake (a Republican) waited over three months for his confirmation vote.

According to the official, Flake could have helped the White House in August in its efforts to win Turkey’s support in securing Kabul International Airport in advance of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.