President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he would nominate former Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico and Morgan Stanley vice chairman Tom Nides to be ambassador to Israel.
The nominations are among Biden’s first slate of political ambassadors. Until now, the only ambassadors the president had publicly announced were career foreign service officers.
Salazar is a former Colorado state attorney general and a former Democratic senator who left the Senate to join President Barack Obama’s administration in 2009 and lead the Interior Department.
During the 2020 presidential race, Salazar chaired Biden’s Latino Leadership Committee and served as an honorary co-chair of the Biden campaign’s Colorado Latino Leadership Council.
Nides served as a deputy secretary of State in the Obama administration. He was also a top aide to then-U.S. trade representative Mickey Kantor during the Clinton administration.
Biden also announced that he will nominate Capt. C.B. “Sully” Sullenberger as an ambassador-rank U.S. representative to the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization. Sullenberger is a retired airline pilot, known best for successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009.
For the prestigious, ambassador-rank post of U.S. permanent representative to NATO, Biden has chosen Julianne Smith. A former deputy national security advisor to Biden when he was vice president, Smith also directed NATO policy at the Pentagon.
Los Angeles-based psychiatry professor Dr. Cynthia Telles is Biden’s pick for ambassador to Costa Rica. Telles teaches at UCLA, and for 30 years she has been the director of the UCLA Spanish-Speaking Psychosocial Clinic and the school’s Hispanic Neuropsychiatric Center of Excellence.
In addition to the intended nominees above, Biden also tapped four career foreign service officers for ambassadorships:
- Julie Chung, for ambassador to Sri Lanka
- Sharon L. Cromer, for ambassador to Gambia
- Troy Damian Fitrell as ambassador to Guinea
- Marc Ostfield for ambassador to Paraguay
The announcements were largely expected. But coming as they did while Biden is traveling overseas, they underscore Biden’s broader aim of staffing U.S. embassies abroad with experienced and respected professionals.
They also represent a break with the long-standing (and bipartisan) tradition of presidents doling out prestige ambassadorships like Britain and France first, often to their biggest campaign donors.
Not only did Biden choose not to name his envoys to holiday destinations like the Bahamas and Brussels, he did the exact opposite: The posts Biden announced Tuesday, Mexico and Israel, are considered to be some of the most challenging jobs in the diplomatic corps.
If Salazar is confirmed, as expected, he will have a difficult task ahead of him, helping to repair a U.S.-Mexico relationship that has become deeply frayed in recent years.
Former President Donald Trump accused Mexico of sending criminals over the border and invested billions of dollars to build a wall between the two nations.
Biden came into office promising a new approach to immigration and reversed several of Trump’s more draconian border policies.
But his pivot also triggered an avalanche of new, undocumented migrants who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, many from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” countries, and requested asylum.
The result is a humanitarian crisis in Mexico as well as the United States.
Like Salazar, Nides would also take over one of the most challenging portfolios in American diplomacy if he is confirmed.
Israelis recently elected a new coalition government, ending Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure.
The leadership change in Israel comes less than a month after the country agreed to a cease-fire with Hamas, ending 11 days of fighting that was the worst violence the area has seen since 2014.
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