WASHINGTON - A Senate logjam over confirming ambassadors risks hampering U.S. efforts to contain an expanding Islamist urgency in Iraq, with several of President Obama's nominees for the volatile Middle East unsure when they can get to work.
Obama announced his choice of a new ambassador to Iraq last month, and recently nominated envoys to Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, and Turkey - key regional players Washington is counting on to combat Sunni extremists. But a distracted Senate is moving slowly to put the new Mideast team in place, its attention focused largely on judicial appointees and politically driven votes over everything from student loans to unemployment insurance as lawmakers gear up for November elections.
The prolonged transition in embassies across the region could compound the difficulty facing the United States as it seeks to stem the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The al-Qaeda splinter group has expanded from its base in Syria, taking Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, and vowing to march on Baghdad.
"No nation can listen to us if we are not present to speak," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.). Since he became chairman 16 months ago, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved 129 nominations. The full Senate still hasn't confirmed a third of those nominees.
The delays haven't concerned objections to the nominees' credentials. Rather, the long waits appear the product of Senate fallout from a decision by the Democratic majority last year to eliminate a 60-vote filibuster threshold for most judiciary nominees.
Ambassadorial confirmations have slowed to a crawl since, averaging about one a week as the administration and Senate Democratic and Republican leaders wrangle over whom to put to a vote and when.