An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Why Sen. Rubio is stalling Biden's pick for ambassador to China


Tensions are high right now between the U.S. and China, but President Biden does not have an ambassador in Beijing because a key Republican senator is stalling his pick. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Three months ago, Biden nominated Nicholas Burns to represent him in Beijing. He's a veteran diplomat and a former ambassador to NATO, who's well-regarded in both parties. But Republican Senator Marco Rubio is standing in his way. The Florida senator told NPR that Burns won't be tough enough on the Chinese Communist Party.

MARCO RUBIO: He's kind of an old-school diplomat trained in the ways of a failed bipartisan consensus that's put us at this point.

ORDOÑEZ: Rubio is known for his hard line on China. He said a weak ambassador is worse than no ambassador at all.

RUBIO: I'm more concerned that we send the wrong message. They're not a competitor. They're a potential adversary and a geopolitical rival, and we need to be clear about that.

ORDOÑEZ: The position is one of dozens of ambassador posts that are empty right now, due in part to Republicans blocking them. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said Republicans are playing with fire by leaving critical jobs unfilled.

CHRIS MURPHY: The Republicans are putting their hatred for Joe Biden ahead of the security of the nation, and it is unbelievably dangerous.

ORDOÑEZ: Tensions are high with China over human rights, Taiwan and a ramp-up in military action in the South Pacific.

BONNIE GLASER: We need to have an ambassador in place in Beijing.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia program at The German Marshall Fund of the United States. She says it's critical to have someone with the backing of the president in Beijing.

GLASER: There are areas of friction that, if not a dealt with, if they are left to fester, could potentially spiral out of control. We could end up in a confrontation with China if we have an accident, for example, between our two militaries in the South China Sea.

ORDOÑEZ: Glaser says Burns isn't weak on China. During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, he took a tough stance.


NICHOLAS BURNS: There's no question in the 21st century, given Chinese power - and we've talked about this morning - China is the greatest threat to the security of our country and of the democratic world.

ORDOÑEZ: The White House says Burns is eminently qualified for the job, and they need someone in place now to follow up on all the issues between the two countries. Franco Ordoñez, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.