WASHINGTON -- The Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state Tuesday night, giving chief diplomat John Kerry a desperately needed deputy.
Blinken, whose nomination was nearly derailed by Republican opponents, skates into the office on a 55-38 vote as Democrats pushed dozens of President Barack Obama's nominations through the upper chamber before losing their majority in the next Congress. The approval was thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) staunch opposition to the government spending bill, which kept senators in Washington for an extra few days before adjourning.
Blinken, now the Obama White House deputy national security adviser, will likely have a full plate of responsibilities once he relocates to State’s Foggy Bottom offices. Acting deputy Wendy Sherman, who took the temporary job pending Blinken’s confirmation, has played a key role in the Iran nuclear negotiations and lawmakers have made clear that Blinken would be expected to handle a slew of burgeoning crises in the Middle East.
Blinken’s ascent into the State Department’s top echelons was nearly stifled after a contentious nomination hearing last month, where his past statements on Iraq and the pending U.S. withdrawal from a fragile Afghanistan led Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to block a confirmation vote.
“He’s totally unqualified,” McCain told reporters following the November hearing. "He's the guy who said we're leaving behind the richest, safest Iraq in history. Look it up.”
Blinken will fill the vacancy left by departing lifelong diplomat Bill Burns.
Blinken was the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff director when Obama joined the panel as senator. His personal relationship with the president led his path down Pennsylvania Avenue, where he joined the White House’s national security team in 2013.
“I’ve known and worked closely with Tony for the past decade, starting when I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he was its staff director,” Obama said when he nominated Blinken. “For the past six years, I’ve relied on Tony in the White House, where I’ve come to have extraordinary respect for his knowledge, judgment, and inclusive approach to developing and implementing our foreign policy.”
It appeared a long shot that Blinken would make it through the Senate before this year’s session ended, with the Senate’s packed legislative agenda and Republican concerns with his nomination. But thanks to Ted Cruz’s refusal to let the lawmakers leave Washington, Senate Democrats, in their last hours as Senate majority, hustled Blinken through.