WASHINGTON (NBC NEWS) — When President Donald Trump’s pick for ambassador to the Bahamas testified before Congress to make the case for his nomination, he incorrectly stated that the island nation was part of the U.S. It is an independent country.
For ambassador to the United Arab Emirates — a job so sensitive in the tense Middle East that every previous president gave it to a career diplomat — Trump picked a wealthy real estate developer with no diplomatic experience.
The ambassador to Morocco? A well-heeled car dealer. The nominee for Iceland? While well-traveled, he had never been to that Nordic country. For Melania Trump’s native country of Slovenia? The founder of an evangelical charity who frequently reposted false far-right social media posts on her Facebook page.
An NBC News review of those who donated to the Trump inauguration found at least 14 major contributors to its inaugural fund who were later nominees to become ambassadors, donating an average of slightly over $350,000 apiece. Though the Trump administration says the business acumen of these nominees qualifies them to represent the U.S. abroad, six of the 14 nominations have languished for months in the Republican-controlled Senate. One nomination has stalled for about two years.
While it is not unusual for a president to offer plum posts to wealthy donors, the Trump administration is nominating a greater number of political appointees to top-level slots, and is seeing a larger share stall in the Senate, according to two diplomatic experts and a senior Senate staffer.
Since the 1950s, roughly two-thirds of confirmed ambassadors have been career foreign service officials and one-third have been political appointees. Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush kept within that range, according to the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), which is comprised of current and former diplomats.
The Trump administration is different. Of its confirmed appointees, around 50 percent are career foreign service diplomats, and 50 percent are political appointees, according to AFSA.
There are also 52 vacant ambassadorships out of about 250. Two years into their presidencies, Obama had 11 and Bush had 15. There are also a large number of vacancies in critical countries like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
The rate of confirmation is also quite different for Trump nominees. Two years into their presidencies, Presidents Bill Clinton, Bush and Obama had 96, 84 and 89 percent of their nominees confirmed. Trump is currently at 66 percent, according to a senior congressional staffer.