U.S. Senate panel backs confirmation of Blinken to be top U.S. diplomat

FILE PHOTO: Antony J. Blinken, of New York, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. January 19, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday approved the nomination of veteran diplomat Antony Blinken to serve as secretary of state, clearing the way for his consideration by the full Senate as soon as this week.

The committee voted by 15-3 in favor of President Joe Biden’s nominee for the post.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the committee, said he hoped the Senate would vote to confirm Blinken on Tuesday. “The world is on fire right now, with pressing crises in every region and hemisphere,” Menendez said before the committee voted.

At the moment, Daniel Smith, former director of the Foreign Service Institute (FSI), is serving as acting secretary of state.

Blinken is a longtime Biden confidant who has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate before, most recently to serve as No. 2 at the State Department during former Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration, when Biden was vice president.

He is expected to easily win confirmation in the 100-member Senate, which is divided 50-50 but controlled by Biden’s fellow Democrats because Vice President Kamala Harris can break any tie.

His confirmation hearing before the foreign relations panel went smoothly last week, with both Democrats and Republicans offering praise. Blinken was once staff director for the committee before he joined the Obama administration.

Blinken’s confirmation process did not begin as early as is typical for a secretary of state, as former President Donald Trump fought Biden’s election victory with fruitless court challenges. Trump supporters attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Senate leaders also have been jockeying over rules for how the chamber should conduct its business, given the 50-50 split between the two parties.

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