The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, after a difficult confirmation process that saw delay and scrutiny over a speech in which she praised China’s approach in Africa.
Thomas-Greenfield was confirmed in a 78-20 vote. The timeline for her confirmation had been delayed after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, used a procedural move to push the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote from earlier this month.
Cruz and other Republicans had expressed concern over a 2019 speech the diplomat gave on "China-U.S.-Africa Relationships" at the Savannah State University Confucius Institute’s fifth-anniversary lecture event.
The speech, excerpts of which were reported by The Washington Post, called Chinese intervention in Africa a "win-win-win situation" in which the communist regime and the U.S. could promote good governance, gender equity and the rule of law.
"I see no reason why China cannot share in those values," she said. "In fact, China is in a unique position to spread these ideals given its strong footprint on the continent."
On Tuesday, Republicans cited the speech and other remarks as their reason for voting no.
"Let’s be clear that Linda Thomas-Greenfield has a record of praising and sympathizing with the Chinese Communist Party. It is not anomaly," Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a statement. "An Africa expert, between 2013 and 2019 she testified before both chambers of Congress that the U.S. ‘is not competing with China in Africa.’"
"We need a U.N. ambassador who will stop Beijing in its tracks, not one who repeats the CCP’s foreign policy concepts," she said.
The 2019 speech was a focus at her confirmation hearing, where she expressed regret for the words. Thomas-Greenfield said she now supports efforts to crack down on the Confucius Institute.
"Truthfully, I wish I had not accepted this specific invitation and I came away from the experience frankly alarmed at the way the Confucius Institute was engaging with the Black community in Georgia," she said.
She also promised that the U.S. would take a strong approach against Chinese influence at the U.N. -- where Beijing has been steadily increasing its power for years.
"We know China is working across the U.N. system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution -- American values," she said. "Their success depends on our continued withdrawal. That will not happen on my watch."
Following the initial confirmation hearing, Cruz tweeted out a series of examples in which she showed her praise of the Chinese Communist party both before and after her speech at the Confucius Institute, noting that the 2019 speech was not a one-off.
"At a time when China I believe poses the single greatest geopolitical threat to the United States in the next century, we need a U.N. ambassador who will stand up to China, China’s pervasive influence at the United Nations, and given her record, I have no confidence that this nominee would do so," he said.
But, Democrats on the committee pointed to those remarks to argue that she would be tough on Beijing despite the speech.
"You can reach back and find speeches, comments and addresses from presidents, CEOs, senators and diplomats of both parties over decades saying positive and complimentary things about China and its future," Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said. "And if we want to play a game where we reach back and point to something that was done here and there that was positive about China, we can play Punch and Judy almost indefinitely on a partisan basis."
Meanwhile, the State Department said Thomas-Greenfield "has been sounding the alarm on China for decades now."
Thomas-Greenfield will be thrust into the job at a busy time at Turtle Bay. As well as dealing with diplomatic challenges in places such as Libya, Yemen, China and Iran, the Biden administration has been quickly undoing Trump-era U.N. policies.
Biden has so far halted the withdrawal from the World Health Organization, has reentered the U.S. in the Paris climate accord and has indicated he wishes to reenter the Human Rights Council.
Hugh Dugan, a former U.S. delegate to the United Nations, where he served under 11 ambassadors, told Fox News that the new US Ambassador must act quickly to contain China’s ambitions.
"Linda Thomas-Greenfield as ambassador must rally U.S. allies to defend against the Communist Party of China hijacking the U.N. brand to distract from its COVID-19 failures, to short-circuit human rights, and to seed its authoritarianism in countries large and small," he said.
"She needs to sound the alarm for Washington to muster a deep bench of U.S. talent to outperform in multilateral arenas against China and other adversaries’ U.N. gameplans," he said.
Next week Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield could face a baptism of fire of sorts as her first role will be to take on the Council presidency for the month of March as the U.S. takes over the presidency from the U.K. The U.S. will be leading the council agenda for March and will play an influential role in the council’s program.