Biden’s Pick For U.N. Ambassador Confirmed As Position Elevated To Cabinet-Level

Some Republicans have accused Linda Thomas-Greenfield of being soft on China
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 27: Linda Thomas-Greenfield appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on her nomination to be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, on Capitol Hill on January 27, 2021.
Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

As The Washington Post reports, “the upper chamber took an initial step, voting 78 to 20 to elevate Linda Thomas-Greenfield to ambassador status,” followed by “a second vote to make her ‘representative of the United States of America to the Sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations'” by a vote of 78 to 21.

Biden announced in November that he would elevate the position to Cabinet-level after the Trump administration had downgraded the role in 2018.

Thomas-Greenfield, 68, has said the United States would have a more active role in the United Nations following former President Donald Trump’s “America First” philosophy. She said the previous administration weakened international alliances by withdrawing from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). At the same time, she said China worked “across the UN system to drive an authoritarian agenda that stands in opposition to the founding values of the institution – American values.”

“Their success depends on our continued withdrawal,” Thomas-Greenfield continued. “That will not happen on my watch.”

Politico describes Thomas-Greenfield as “a 35-year veteran of the Foreign Service and one of the most prominent Black diplomats in Washington” that “has served in State Department postings from Pakistan to Switzerland to Jamaica.” According to the outlet, “she has served as ambassador to Liberia, assistant secretary of State for African affairs, and as the State Department’s top human resources official.” Thomas-Greenfield retired from the department in 2017 after reportedly being pushed out by the Trump administration.

A native of Baker, Louisiana, Thomas-Greenfield attended a segregated high school before becoming one of the first black women to graduate from Louisiana State University in 1974. She has been praised for her “Gumbo Diplomacy,” described by the Baton Rouge Advocate as using “South Louisiana’s food culture of communal cooking in the kitchen followed by long hours of conversation at the table to relax the often tradition-bound diplomats.”

“Wherever I was posted around the world, I’d invite people of different backgrounds and beliefs to help me make a roux, and chop onions for the holy trinity and make homemade gumbo,” Thomas-Greenfield explained after accepting the nomination.

“It was my way of breaking down barriers, connecting with people, and starting to see each other on a human level – a bit of lagniappe is what we say in Louisiana,” she added, referring to a creole word meaning an unexpected gift.

During her confirmation hearing last month, some Republicans had expressed concern that Thomas-Greenfield would be soft on China. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas spotlighted a speech Thomas-Greenfield delivered less than two years ago at Savannah State University, a historically black college. The event was funded by the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government foundation that seeks to “advance global education and cross-cultural understanding” through partnerships with colleges and universities in other countries.

Last year, the Trump administration designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center as a foreign mission of China’s communist-led government, accusing the country of using the program to spread propaganda to students in America.

“This speech is cheerleading for the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Cruz said during the hearing.

Cruz alleged that Thomas-Greenfield had not criticized China during her address and sounded too friendly toward one of America’s most significant strategic adversaries.

At the hearing, Thomas-Greenfield said she disagreed with Cruz’s interpretation of her words but regretted accepting the invitation to speak and “came away from the experience frankly alarmed at the way the Confucius Institute were engaging with the black community in Georgia.”

“It reminded me of what I’d seen in Africa, the Chinese government going after those in need with fewer resources,” she testified.

According to Politico, Cruz wanted “to bring attention to what he sees as President Joe Biden’s nominees taking a more conciliatory approach to Beijing than the Trump administration.”

As The Advocate reported:

Members of the Senate committee said that during the past four years, as the Trump administration backed away from the United Nations, the Chinese had stepped forward. One of the most striking examples of America’s diminished leadership came when the body refused to support economic sanctions for Iran.

“The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to reshape the UN to serve the needs of the party,” said Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho. He also gave Thomas-Greenfield a pass on the speech. “I can tell you that there isn’t a person sitting in this room that hasn’t given a speech that they don’t wish they had back.”

“Senator, if I’m confirmed, I commit to working with this committee to counter China at the UN, to fight against all efforts by the Chinese government to add harmful language to the UN resolutions, and to resist China’s efforts to overfill key UN positions with Chinese citizens,” Thomas-Greenfield replied.

The Advocate went on to report that Thomas-Greenfield’s husband, Lafayette Greenfield, also worked at the State Department, as does their daughter, Lindsay Jamila Greenfield.

“When America shows up, when we are consistent and persistent, when we exert our influence in accordance to our values, the United Nations can be an indispensable institution for advancing peace, security and our collective well-being,” Thomas-Greenfield has said.

“If instead we walk away from the table and allow others to fill the void, the global community suffers and so do American interests.”

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