Trump’s UAE ambassador nominee still in limbo
WASHINGTON – When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Friday, no U.S. ambassador was there to welcome him.
The post has been vacant for nine months. The Republican donor President Donald Trump chose for the job, John Rakolta Jr., hasn’t been approved by the Senate.
Trump has frequently accused Senate Democrats of using the chamber’s complex web of rules to sabotage his nominees. But Rakolta’s selection illustrates the challenges of filling a highlevel government position with a candidate from the corporate world who has no prior diplomatic experience.
Rakolta, a construction company CEO, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee. His wife and children donated tens of thousands of dollars more to Trump’s campaign as well as to other GOP causes. Rakolta is related by marriage to Ronna Romney Mcdaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. Rakolta’s wife is Mcdaniel’s aunt.
His nomination moved so slowly in the Senate that it was sent back to the White House earlier this month – one of more than 270 of the president’s picks returned because they weren’t acted on before the end of that session of Congress. It’s not unusual for a White House to re-nominate many of the same people, but the Trump administration hasn’t said yet whether it would re-submit Rakolta’s name.
Rakolta’s qualifications and business background, which includes a dormant partnership with a firm headquartered in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’S oil-rich capital, was still being scrutinized by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when the session ended.
At that point, nothing that would derail his chances of confirmation had emerged from the review. A Capitol Hill aide familiar with the matter described it as the back and forth that comes with “complex nominee files,” a reference to the careful checking required to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. The aide wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
It has long been a presidential tradition to reward generous political donors and campaign supporters with ambassadorships. The political money website Open Secrets found that President Barack Obama named two dozen highprofile Democratic Party donors to diplomatic posts during his first year in office.
Still, Trump upended decades of State Department practice in tapping Rakolta in May. If he’s re-nominated and eventually confirmed, Rakolta would become the first political appointee to serve as ambassador to the Emirates, a small yet ambitious nation aiming to expand its regional clout. The job has been filled exclusively by career foreign service officers since 1972, when the United States and the UAE established formal diplomatic relations.
The U.S. ambassador’s office has been vacant since late March when Barbara Leaf retired from the State Department after a 33-year diplomatic career. By comparison, Leaf was confirmed as ambassador in November 2014, about four months after she was nominated.
The UAE is host to about 5,000 U.S. troops and Washington’s main listening post for Iran is located in Dubai, the largest city in the Emirates. The UAE remains a key defense ally to America.