Senate Committee OKs Biden's Pick for Israel Envoy, but Sen. Cruz Delays State Dept. Mideast Lead

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WASHINGTON - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday confirmed Tom Nides as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. Nides' nomination will now go to the Senate floor for a final vote before he is officially confirmed.

Nides was passed en bloc alongside more than two dozen nominees, avoiding a fate that the vast majority of the Biden administration's diplomatic nominations have been condemned to — being blocked by Republican Senator Ted Cruz over the administration's decision to waive sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

While Cruz has not placed a hold on Nides' nomination, he did note his opposition to Nides' nomination for the record, portending a potential future hold on the nominee's confirmation on the Senate floor. Sen. Marco Rubio also opposed Nides' confirmation.

What is perhaps even more pressing, however, is Cruz's blocking of the nomination of senior Middle East National Security Council official Barbara Leaf — Biden's pick to lead the State Department's Middle East department. 

Rather than citing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as he did with previous holds, the Texas Republican blocked Leaf's nomination as assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs over specific Middle East policy matters.

Cruz highlighted Leaf's testimony on the Biden administration's approach to Iran, her refusal to provide State Department documents on how to properly address Israel's normalization pacts with Arab states (notwithstanding State Department policy that nominees are not in position to hand over documents to a congressional committee).

Cruz also accused Leaf of lack of clarity on her position on U.S. withheld aid to Egypt and the potential release of the 16 Egyptian prisoners whose detainment has been described by the administration as a human rights violation.  

Cruz's reasons for blocking Leaf were first reported by Politico. Sen. Chris Murphy sharply criticized the move, saying "Senator Cruz’s objection to Barbara Leaf has nothing to do with her qualifications. It’s just more political grandstanding that leaves America vulnerable without a top diplomat in the Middle East." 

The hold on Leaf, former U.S. ambassador to the UAE, does not necessarily doom her chances, though this now forces Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to devote valuable floor time in a bid to move past the hold unless the administration pulls her nomination altogether.

Thomas NidesCredit: J. Scott Applewhite, AP

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