The Senate confirmed Wendy Sherman as undersecretary of State for political affairs late Thursday by unanimous consent, despite reports that she would face stiff GOP opposition.
In the end, no one on Capitol Hill had an appetite for a fight over Sherman's nomination, despite the fact that multiple GOP Senate staffs had been compiling research to use against her. Senate staffs had raised questions about her ties to Chinese businesses, her stance on North Korea, and her stint as head of the Fannie Mae Foundation -- but ultimately not even one senator put a hold on the nomination. Two senior GOP Congressional aides told The Cable that Sherman benefitted from some last minute assistance from Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), whose office contacted the offices of other GOP senators this week to urge them not to block the confirmation. Sherman's mother once worked for Isakson and so he felt an affinity for her and decided to lobby on her behalf.
"I had previously voted against her nomination earlier this week when it was brought before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but I have received information since that leads me to change my vote," Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), said in a floor statement Thursday.
"My good friend Senator Isakson of Georgia spoke to me about his 30-plus-year relationship with the Sherman family. Ms. Sherman's mother, Miriam "Mimi" Sherman, started working for Northside Realty, Senator Isakson's business based in Marietta, GA, in the late seventies and eighties. Mimi Sherman, who passed away in 2005, was a terrific person, and Senator Isakson was very happy to call her a close friend and fellow coworker. He also has known Wendy during this entire time and knows that she embodies the same qualities that her mother did. He is confident that she is qualified for the position and will do a great job at the State Department as undersecretary of State for political affairs."
One senior GOP Senate aide told The Cable that there was a lot of unease about Sherman's nomination in the GOP caucus but, at the end of the day, there just wasn't enough energy or bandwidth for the fight, and the issue got lost in the distraction of all the other crises in Washington right now.
"[N]obody wanted to be the lead on holding her up," the aide said. "In a few months from now, some of these [senators] are going to be kicking themselves for not taking a harder look at this now, but then it will be too late."
The GOP aides also gave some credit to the State Department, which was active in getting senior foreign policy hands around Washington, including several Republicans, to call the GOP Senate offices in support of Sherman's confirmation.
"The administration anticipated a huge fight and lined up their ducks and they were able to stave off a real challenge," the Senate GOP aide said.
The GOP caucus is also concerned about a dwindling amount of foreign policy expertise and institutional knowledge in the Senate. As senior senators retire, multiple GOP aides said, there's worry that newer, greener lawmakers will not have the background or the enthusiasm to take on complicated foreign policy issues.
Sherman previously served as assistant secretary of State for legislative affairs and later as State Department counselor and North Korea policy coordinator. She has worked recently as vice chairman of the Albright-Stonebridge consulting group. She now replaces Bill Burns, who became deputy secretary of State in June, replacing Jim Steinberg. During Sherman's confirmation process, the State Department brought in Ambassador to Brazil Tom Shannon to serve as acting undersecretary. He will now be returning to Brazil.
The next looming State Department nomination fights are over Sung Kim, the nominee for U.S. ambassador to South Korea, who we've confirmed does have a hold, and Mike McFaul, the NSC senior director for Russia who was just nominated as U.S. ambassador to Moscow. The Senate hasn't received the paperwork on McFaul yet, but several senators are girding for a fight over the U.S.-Russia reset policy.
We'll see if that fight actually materializes...