Senate confirms nominees for State posts and ambassadorships

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate confirmed on Friday six of President Barack Obama's nominees for ambassadorships and senior positions at the State Department after GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ended his opposition.

The nominees were approved by voice vote. The approvals came after Democrats complained Republicans were holding up the nominations to undermine Obama's agenda in his final year in office.

There are still several high-profile nominations awaiting confirmation, including the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The nominee for the FDA post is opposed by several senators from both parties and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. A vote on Obama's choice for the FDA post is expected after the Senate returns from a weeklong recess that begins Friday.

Cruz placed a blanket hold last year on all nominees for State Department positions requiring Senate confirmation, due in part to his opposition to the landmark nuclear deal Obama and other nations brokered with Iran.

Under Senate rules, a hold is a parliamentary procedure that allows a senator to block a nomination and other motions from coming to the floor for a vote.

Phil Novack, a Cruz spokesman, said Friday that the senator removed his hold on State Department nominees after the Senate passed by voice vote legislation authored by Cruz to rename the plaza in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington as "Liu Xiaobo Plaza." Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner imprisoned on charges of inciting state subversion.

Novack said Cruz would continue to oppose the Iran nuclear deal.

The State Department nominees approved are Thomas A. Shannon Jr. to be undersecretary of state for political affairs and Brian Egan to be the department's legal adviser.

The U.S. ambassadors approved Friday are: Azita Raji, to be ambassador to Sweden; Samuel D. Heins, to be Ambassador to Norway; John L. Estrada, to be ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago; and David McKean, to be ambassador to Luxembourg.

The Senate also confirmed Sunil Sabharwal to be alternate executive director of the International Monetary Fund.


Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.