Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sent a letter to Chairman Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) on Wednesday, saying they would oppose consideration of President Donald Trump’s State Department nominees until the senator dramatically revamped the committee’s work.
The letter, obtained by The Daily Beast, noted that the Idaho Republican had held just two hearings all year and demanded that he facilitate “a sustained, concrete, and public agenda for policy and oversight.”
“The Committee’s agenda has been largely devoid of the serious, sustained, and bipartisan policy and oversight work that have been hallmarks of this Committee,” the letter says. “We cannot in good conscience agree to your nominations agenda when the Committee is not fulfilling its other responsibilities.”
The letter marks a significant escalation in tensions within a committee not exactly known for partisan infighting. And though Republicans still have the votes to move forward on Trump’s nominees, a blanket refusal by Democrats to consider them could complicate their confirmations, should one or more Republican members choose to vote no.
The letter to Risch comes three weeks after the ousting of Steve Linick, the former inspector general of the State Department, by President Donald Trump. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has been leading the way in investigating the inspector general’s firing. But Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is involved in the probe, too, and has been outspoken about the president’s decision, referring to the move as akin to “another Friday night massacre.” Saying he wanted to preserve his political capital, Risch decided not to press for Pompeo’s testimony on the matter, as first reported by Politico.
Democratic members of the committee told Risch in the letter that they would not support the president’s nominations so long as the State Department continued to ignore outstanding oversight requests on the firing Linick, the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, and the political targeting of career State personnel.
“We urge you to use your leverage, along with us, in pursuit of this shared, bipartisan goal,” the letter says. “We recognize the need for serious, qualified individuals to lead our nation’s diplomatic institutions, our role needs to be much more robust. We must rebalance the Committee’s agenda to ensure appropriate attention to all of its core responsibilities.”