It would have been nice to have a U.S. ambassador to Guatemala during the height of the child migrant crisis, but better late than never. The Senate finally confirmed Todd D. Robinson, a career diplomat, as the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala Tuesday, filling a position that has been vacant for months. Robinson was just one of many qualified candidates nominated to key ambassadorships that have been left vacant for far too long.
The delay, of course, has been the Senate's failure to confirm nominees. After Senate Democrats deployed the nuclear option in November — meaning it now takes 51 votes, not 60, to vote on presidential nominees — Republicans began blocking nominations through other means.
In July the State Department issued a release pointing out that there were 58 ambassador candidates awaiting confirmation. Thirty-five of them had been approved by the Senate Foreign Relations committee and could have been approved by a simple vote.
"Noncontroversial career Foreign Service officers are languishing on the sidelines instead of being on the ground fighting to protect and promote U.S. interests," the release read. By September 1, that number was down to 55 pending ambassadors, according to The Boston Globe. The average wait time for candidates approved by the committee was seven months.
To be fair, the Obama administration is not above appointing political bundlers who have no place in diplomacy. In January, Obama fundraiser George James Tsunis displayed a completely lack of knowledge about Norway during his confirmation hearing to become the ambassador to the country. He referenced the country's president (they have a prime minister) and admitted he'd never been there.
Robinson wasn't a bundler and has actually been to Guatemala. Here's how he described his experience to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July:
As you know, I was Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy in Guatemala City from 2009 – 2011. In fact, much of my career in the Foreign Service has ranged throughout the region in Colombia, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, and Bolivia. Before going to Guatemala, I was Consul General in Barcelona, and when I left Guatemala, I took up my current duties as Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement."
During his confirmation, Robinson also promised to "work with Congress and
the Guatemalan government to see that U.S. assistance is effectively targeted to
address the underlying causes of migration," referring to the thousands of Guatemalan migrant children who were apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border this summer. That wave has since died down, but there's still a need for what Secretary of State John Kerry called “our strongest voice on the ground” in Guatemala and other countries. Now we finally have someone to send.