Checkpoint Washington reports that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford’s nomination today on a voice vote. His confirmation is now awaiting final approval on a full Senate vote. President Obama recess appointed Ford last year after Republicans blocked his nomination, claiming that sending an ambassador to Damascus — a spot that had been vacant since 2005 — would be a reward to Bashar al-Assad’s regime for bad behavior.
Some senators, like Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), originally opposed Ford’s confirmation last year, but many are now in support (Rubio as recently as April called on Obama to recall Ford as a response to Assad’s violent crackdown on the pro-democracy movement there). Indeed, one GOP aide actually admitted that Ford has been doing great work in Syria, but some Republicans will most likely put a hold on his confirmation anyway:
“Most people don’t have a problem with Ford specifically. He actually is pretty good,” said one Republican staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss deliberations among Republicans. “There’s been a deeper question of the administration’s having a clear, consistent, coherent policy on Syria.”
“That’s really what’s driving the concern of a lot of senators on the Hill,” the staffer said. “I think, from that perspective, you could potentially anticipate a number of senators putting holds on Ford.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton actually laid out the administration’s policy fairly clearly last month when she announced that Assad should step down and that the U.S. would impose sanctions on Syria. “We understand the strong desire of the Syrian people that no foreign country should intervene in their struggle and we respect their wishes,” Clinton said then. Perhaps that’s what’s irking these Republican hold outs so much: that the U.S. won’t attack Syria.
Testifying to save his job weeks before Clinton’s announcement, Ford told the Senate, “I think we owe it to [Syrian pro-democracy activists] to remain supportive and it try to build that support wisely, carefully but to build that support.”