(Bloomberg) -- The Biden administration is sticking with its pick for ambassador to Brazil even though her nomination has stalled in the Senate, the White House said, making it more likely that the US won’t have a top envoy in South America’s largest country before presidential elections this fall.
The White House has no plans to withdraw Elizabeth Frawley Bagley even though the Senate Foreign Relations Committee deadlocked 11-11 on her nomination, and will push for a Senate vote after lawmakers return from the August recess.
The committee deadlock means Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will need to use up valuable Senate floor time. That means the US likely won’t have an ambassador in place as Brazil heads into its presidential election season.
Presidential campaigns officially kicked off this week for the national elections in October. The administration and many lawmakers have expressed concern over the country’s political stability as its president, Jair Bolsonaro, spreads claims -- which have been widely debunked -- that the electoral process isn’t secure.
President Joe Biden nominated Bagley, a longtime Democratic donor who served as ambassador to Portugal under President Bill Clinton, in January. But her nomination came under threat after the Washington Free Beacon wrote a story drawing attention to comments she’d made about Jewish and Cuban Democratic donors in 1998.
Her comments, made as part of an oral history project, included the remark that “Democrats always go with the Jewish constituency on Israel and say stupid things.” She also suggested that Democrats used tougher rhetoric against the Cuban regime as a way of courting Cuban donors. “It’s not numbers, it’s like the Jewish factor,” Bagley said then. “It’s money.”
“It was a poor choice of words,” Bagley said at her nomination hearing. “It certainly does not reflect my views on Jewish Americans or Cuban Americans.”
Still those comments galvanized Republican opposition and Bagley failed to get a single vote from that side of the aisle. She also faced tough questions from two Democrats, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Maryland’s Ben Cardin, though they voted to approve her.
Schumer must now make a procedural motion to put her nomination on the floor for a vote by the entire chamber.
The Brazilian presidential race is poised to be a showdown between the right-wing incumbent Bolsonaro and the leftist former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Bolsonaro, who had a close relationship with former President Donald Trump, told foreign ambassadors in July that Brazil’s electronic voting machines are vulnerable to fraud.
Brazil is “a country where democratic backsliding is a real concern,” Menendez told Bagley in her confirmation hearing in May. “We are concerned about its present leader trying to undermine the essence of the election process that is taking place.”
Schumer’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The State Department referred a questoin to the White House.
The administration has faced difficulty filling posts that require Senate confirmation. More than 130 nominees are under consideration of the 50-50 chamber, according to a Washington Post/Partnership for Public Service tracker. Biden has not yet announced nominations to another 82 positions. Italy, which will also go through national elections this fall, is the only G-7 country without an ambassador as Biden is yet to nominate someone for the post.
If confirmed, Bagley told senators she would “affirm our confidence in Brazil’s democratic institutions and electoral system, and the importance of maintaining trust in that system ahead of Brazil’s October national elections.”
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