Nearly two years into President Joe Biden’s first term, about a quarter of the U.S. ambassadorial posts around the world remain vacant.
The White House has moved at a slow pace at nominating ambassadors and obstruction in the Senate have led to the posts to go unfilled.
In August of last year, President Joe Biden nominated Frank O. Mora to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States, an international organization of 35 independent states of the Americas who seek to strengthen collaboration.
A year later, the Senate hasn’t confirmed Mora, who previously served as a deputy assistant defense secretary under the Obama administration.
Failing to fill vacant ambassadorial seats impacts the Biden administration’s ability to pursue policies abroad in the interest of the Americans, foreign policy experts say.
“Having a quarter of those positions vacant hurts us,” said Max Stier, who is the President and CEO of Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan nonprofit whose mission is to build a better government. "We are not putting our best foot forward."
Among the countries without a U.S. ambassador: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Haiti, the Netherlands, Colombia, India and the United Arab Emirates.
Brett Bruen, a former U.S. Diplomat under the Obama administration told Spectrum News that the vacancies can put the United States into some difficult diplomatic situations.
“We didn’t have an ambassador in Ukraine, we didn’t even have a nominee until April," he said. "There’s some neglect over some places where a conflict is a possibility. Where our interests are under threat and you just don’t see the kind of urgency to fill these positions from the White House.”
Bruen compared acting ambassadors to substitute teachers: "They could be a wonderful educator but the reality is that they often don’t get the same respect and don’t see their job in the same way."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, disapproved of Mora’s confirmation, said on Twitter that “Nominating [Mora] to be [ambassador] to the OAS is yet another slap in the face in the face to Cubans demanding freedom.”
In terms of what can be done, Stier said that one possibility would be to lower the number of positions that require confirmation from the Senate.
“I think part of the answer is we need to reduce the number of Senate-confirmed positions," Stier told Spectrum News. "It doesn’t do anyone any good to have so many that don’t make it through and we wind up with gaps that hurt our national security."
Former President Trump had a similar number of vacancies at this point in his White House term. However, presidents before Trump generally had filled more ambassador slots by this time in office.
“With the number of threats that we face, the absence of ambassadors is even more concerning," Bruen said. "It is more urgent now, it needs to be more of a priority now."
Right now, Democrats hold an incredibly slim majority in the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a vote to deadlock any ties. Biden’s nominees likely would be even more difficult to confirm if Republicans retake the majority this November.
The White House and the National Security Council did not respond to our requests for comment.