Editorial: Yet another test

President Joe Biden is facing a fresh challenge to his oft-repeated commitment to diversity in his administration: assembling a diplomatic corps that gives a nod to key political allies and donors while staying true to a campaign pledge to appoint ambassadors who look like America.

More than three months into his administration, Biden has put forward just 11 ambassador nominations and has more than 80 such slots to fill around the globe. Administration officials this week signalled that Biden is ready to ramp up ambassador nominations as the president prepares for foreign travel and turns greater attention to global efforts to fight the coronavirus.

Lobbying has intensified for more sought-after ambassadorial postings including dozens of assignments that past presidents often dispensed as rewards to political allies and top donors. Those appointments often come with an expectation that the appointees can foot the bill for entertaining on behalf of the United States in pricey, high-profile capitals.

But as he did with the assembling of his Cabinet and hiring top advisers, Biden is putting a premium on broadening representation in what historically has been one of the least diverse areas of government, White House officials say. The President looks to ensuring that the people representing him not just in the United States, but around the world represent the diversity of the country, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters this week.

Presidents on both sides of the aisle have rewarded donors and key supporters with a significant slice of sought-after ambassadorships. About 44 per cent of Donald Trump’s ambassadorial appointments were political appointees, compared with 31 per cent for Barack Obama and 32 per cent for George W. Bush, according to the American Foreign Service Association.

Biden hopes to keep political appointments to about 30 per cent of ambassador picks, according to an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk about internal discussions. Most political appointees from the donor class, a small population that’s made up of predominantly white men, have little impact on foreign policy. Occasionally, they have been the source of presidential headaches.

In 2014, the American Foreign Service Association called for new guidelines to ensure that ambassadors meet certain qualifications for top diplomatic posts after a series of embarrassing confirmation hearings involving top Obama fundraisers.


NT Bureau