The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has delayed consideration of Michael McFaul
to become the next U.S. ambassador to Russia due to objections by U.S. senators
that aren't related to his personal qualifications for the position.
Senate sources confirmed to The Cable
that the committee decided Monday not to consider the nomination of McFaul, the
current National Security Council senior director for Russia, at today's
committee business meeting as had been planned. In fact, early Tuesday afternoon the
entire meeting was cancelled due to the McFaul objection as well as separate objections on the nominations
of Roberta Jacobson to become
assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El
Salvador. A planned resolution giving the sense of the Senate on Libya also faced
criticism, our two Senate sources said.
"Today's business meeting has been postponed due to last-minute requests to holdover several of the agenda items," SFRC spokeswoman Jennifer Berlin told The Cable.
McFaul, two staffers have confirmed that the objection is coming from Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Corker isn't objecting to McFaul's personal
qualifications for the position, but is using the nomination to press for administration
assurances that the Y-12 National Security Complex in Tennessee will be fully
funded for fiscal year 2012. Corker also wants assurances over funding for nuclear warhead
life-extension programs, which were part of the deal the administration struck
with Congress during the debate over the New START nuclear reductions agreement
GOP senators want to use the McFaul nomination to press the administration on a
host of issues, including the current U.S.-Russia talks over missile defense
cooperation, Russia's poor record on human rights, its continued occupation of
the Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and a perceived lack of
Russian cooperation on key international issues, such as confronting the
Iranian nuclear threat.
"Objections have been raised by enough Republicans to warrant
holding [McFaul] over until the next business meeting. Likely, strong
concerns over administration negotiations with Moscow over missile defense play
a large role in taking him off the business meeting agenda," one Senate Republican
committee staffer said. "It may be the case Mr. McFaul is not confirmed, given
the weight of these concerns."
Another staffer for a committee member
said today that further objections to McFaul's nomination would probably come
during floor consideration, because they would be raised by Republicans not on
the committee. The objections have little to do with McFaul himself, who is
generally liked and well-respected by the GOP, in part due to his decades of
activism on democracy and human rights.
"He's about as good of a nominee as
Republicans can expect from this administration, but there is a huge gap
between the administration and the GOP about how the ‘reset' with Russia is
going," said this staffer. "Republicans will use his nomination to air their
concerns about a range of issues. That's just how it is."
The committee will likely have only
one more business meeting this year, and it is unclear whether the administration
will get McFaul a hearing on the next agenda.
Meanwhile, the State Department,
aware of the potential problems with the McFaul nomination, sent around a fact sheet
yesterday to Senate offices, which was obtained by The Cable, seeking to assuage senators' concerns about U.S.-Russia
missile defense cooperation discussions. One GOP Senate aide reacted to the
fact sheet by telling The Cable, "If
the administration thinks this is what constitutes giving Congress access to
information about the negotiations, they are sorely mistaken."
Some GOP offices also wanted Kerry
to add a bill to penalize Russia for its treatment of human rights lawyers and
activists to today's business meeting agenda. The legislation, called the Sergei
Rule of Law Accountability Act of 2011, is named after the anti-corruption
lawyer who was tortured and died in a Russian prison in 2009. The bill targets
his captors, as well as any other Russian officials "responsible for
extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of human rights."
want passage of the Magnitsky bill to be the cost of repealing the 1974 Jackson-Vanik
amendment, which currently prevents Russia from getting Permanent Normal Trade
Relations (PNTR) status. Without PNTR, U.S. businesses will be disadvantaged when
Russia joins the WTO later this year. The administration is avoiding linking
Magnitsky to this trade status, and is proposing a fund to support a new
democracy and human rights foundation in Russia instead. Republicans are cool
on that idea.
we've confirmed that Sen. Marco Rubio
(R-FL) is objecting to the Jacobson nomination, and we're told that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is holding up the Aponte nomination.