This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

The United States is one step closer to sending a new ambassador to Canada — finally. It’s been an unusually long delay of more than two years since the U.S. had a top envoy in place in Ottawa.  

A key committee of the U.S. Senate on Tuesday advanced dozens of nominations to be ambassador to Canada, including that of telecom executive David Cohen.

Cohen was a top fundraiser for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, and his nomination received little opposition when the nominations vote came up at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

No Republican explicitly objected to his nomination, and Republicans rejected few of the names on the list in general; Sen. Marco Rubio, however, objected to every name presented and Sen. Ted Cruz objected to several.

The Democratic committee head lamented that nominations were taking so long. He blamed Republicans for dragging out the process, including by not participating in hearings. 

“There are still nominees that have been pending for months and need to get hearings,” said the chair, Bob Menendez of New Jersey. 

“Unfortunately we have been unable to move forward with a number of nomination hearings.”

What’s the context

Canada hasn’t had an official ambassador at its Ottawa embassy since the departure of Kelly Craft in early 2019, when she was appointed by Donald Trump to represent the U.S. at the United Nations.

It’s partly a result of the U.S.’s bitter domestic politics spilling into international affairs.

Trump actually did name a replacement for Craft: Aldona Wos. But her confirmation never advanced. She’s married to Louis DeJoy, the Trump-named head of the U.S. Postal Service, who was embroiled in controversy over delays in mail delivery during the 2020 presidential election.

Biden’s nominees are now being consistently blocked by some Republicans, notably Cruz and Sen. Josh Hawley. 

Two of the senators most aggressively stalling Biden’s nominations are Ted Cruz, left, and Josh Hawley, seen speaking at a news conference on Capitol Hill in April. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Cohen had his confirmation hearing last month where he said the U.S. is waiting to hear what Canada’s broad strategy is for dealing with China.

What’s next

Cohen’s nomination will become official if it’s approved in a vote by the full Senate. Based on Tuesday’s vote at the committee, it appears he’d likely be confirmed by the Senate.

However, it’s not clear when that will happen.

The final vote hasn’t yet been scheduled. And Cruz has been repeatedly blocking nomination votes for different reasons, for months, notably over the Biden administration’s failure to stop a Russian natural gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 2.

There was also a nine-month gap in ambassadors to Ottawa during the Obama era because of similar congressional delays; at the time, that seemed unusually long.

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