Biden picks Caroline Kennedy and Michelle Kwan to be ambassadors

Key Points
  • President Joe Biden will nominate Caroline Kennedy, a former ambassador to Japan, to be the U.S. envoy to Australia, the White House announced Wednesday.
  • Biden also intends to nominate Michelle Kwan, a world-famous Olympic figure skater and former Biden campaign aide, to represent the United States in the Central American nation of Belize.
  • The Biden administration's effort to install American ambassadors overseas has been effectively halted in the Senate by two ambitious Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.
Caroline Kennedy
Getty Images

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden announced two high-profile diplomatic nominations on Wednesday, tapping Caroline Kennedy, a former U.S. ambassador to Japan, to be his envoy to Australia and Michelle Kwan, the world-famous figure skater, to be ambassador to Belize.

The announcements were the latest chapter in the Biden administration's ongoing effort to install American ambassadors overseas, an effort that has been effectively halted in the Senate by two ambitious Republicans, Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

The rules of the Senate permit any individual senator to place an unofficial hold on any executive branch nominee. Senators have blocked judicial appointments, ambassadors and Cabinet nominees over the years as a way to exert leverage in order to win concessions from leaders.

In Cruz's case, he has blocked more than 50 Biden diplomatic appointments since February in the hopes of forcing the White House to sanction key players in the Russian/German gas pipeline deal known as Nord Stream 2, which will deliver gas from Russia to Western Europe.

Hawley's demands are less defined than those of Cruz, but he reportedly wants high-ranking members of the Biden administration to lose their jobs over the chaotic way the U.S. war in Afghanistan ended last summer. Hawley has placed holds on several Pentagon and State Department nominees this fall, but he hasn't explained exactly what it would take for him to lift them.

Both Hawley and Cruz are leading Republican presidential hopefuls in 2024, should former President Donald Trump decide against running for a second term.

Kennedy and Kwan are both superstars in Democratic political circles.

Kennedy is the daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated in 1963. A best-selling author and public speaker, Kennedy has spent much of her life working to improve New York City Schools. Former President Barack Obama tapped Kennedy to be his ambassador to Japan, a post she served in from 2014 to 2017.

Kwan is one of the most celebrated American figure skaters of her generation, having won five world championships and two Olympic medals, the last one in 2006. But in the years since then, Kwan has built a career as a well-respected nonprofit executive and a State Department advisor on global women's issues.

Michelle Kwan, speaking in Washington, in 2013.
Jeffrey MacMillan | The Washington Post | Getty Images

From 2018-20, Kwan served as the director of surrogates for the Biden campaign, helping to strategize and execute high-profile appearances by Biden's many celebrity supporters.

Now, in the signal-heavy world of international diplomacy, Biden's decision to nominate Kennedy and Kwan are a sign of how highly the United States values its alliances with Australia and Belize.

Australia is a one of America's closest and most trusted allies, and the country plays a key role in Biden's long-term strategic plan to counter China's rising influence in the Pacific.

Belize is also a longtime U.S. ally and a key geographic partner in a region plagued by political instability, narcotics trafficking and mass migration.

But there is also a China-related twist here: Belize is part of a shrinking group countries around the world that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which has long exercised independence from Beijing.

A recent announcement by Nicaragua's government that it would sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan was seen by the West as a capitulation to pressure from Beijing.

By shoring up U.S. relations with countries like Belize, including by appointing a high-profile ambassador like Kwan, the Biden administration is making clear that it values Belize as a strategic geopolitical ally in the region.

Once they are formally nominated, Kennedy and Kwan will join 54 other stalled diplomatic nominees awaiting their Senate confirmation votes.