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updated: 8/1/2013 5:29 PM

Senate approves Obama's nominee for U.N. ambassador

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  • U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. nominee Samantha Power testifies last week on Capitol Hill in Washington.

      U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. nominee Samantha Power testifies last week on Capitol Hill in Washington.
    Associated Press/July 17, 2013

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The Senate easily confirmed President Barack Obama's selection for ambassador to the United Nations on Thursday, capping a month in which senators used a bipartisan truce on once-mired nominations to fill a cluster of vacancies in the president's second-term administration.

Senators approved Samantha Power for the post by 87-10. The vote put the former Obama foreign policy adviser and outspoken human rights advocate into the job formerly held by Susan Rice, whom the president has made his national security adviser.

"As a long-time champion of human rights and dignity, she will be a fierce advocate for universal rights, fundamental freedoms and U.S. national interests," Obama said in a written statement after the vote.

Power joined a stack of nominees that senators have approved since striking a bipartisan deal in mid-July. Republicans agreed to allow votes on seven of Obama's picks after Democrats agreed to drop plans to invoke the so-called nuclear option, forcing Senate rules changes that would have made it harder for the chamber's minority parties to block some nominations.

Over the past three weeks, senators have approved Obama's choices to head the Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other agencies.

With Congress about to start a summer recess, many leaders are hoping that the bipartisan cooperation will survive into the fall, when lawmakers face nasty fights over the budget, immigration and other issues.

Underscoring the limits of the truce on nominations, all but one Republican banded together earlier Thursday to prevent the Senate from debating a $54 billion measure financing transportation and housing programs. That dispute evoked partisan passions on both sides, with Republicans accusing Democrats of busting budget limits and Democrats saying the GOP was bowing to extremists.

The Irish-born Power, a one-time journalist who also has a Harvard Law School degree, has reported from many of the world's trouble spots and won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for a book on the meek U.S. response to many 20th century atrocities, including those in Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990s. She has long backed intervention -- including military force -- to halt human rights violations.

Powers has been "a tireless defender of human rights," said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-N.J. "She has seen the tragedy of human suffering from the front lines, first hand."

Speaking against her nomination was Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

He said the next U.N. ambassador must focus on making sure the world organization is "more accountable, that it is more effective and that it is just not some multilateral ideal in which we invest all of our hopes." He said he doubted the administration's and Power's willingness to do that.

Power's penchant for outspokenness has included her 2002 call for a "mammoth protection force" to prevent Middle East violence, from which she has distanced herself.

Two weeks ago, Venezuela said it was calling off efforts to restore normal relations with the U.S. after Power said at her Senate confirmation hearing that the South American country was guilty of a "crackdown on civil society." She also called the U.N.'s inaction to end the large-scale killing in Syria's civil war "a disgrace that history will judge harshly."

In 2008, she resigned as an adviser to Obama's presidential campaign after calling then-rival Hillary Clinton a "monster."

"Certainly no one can question her willingness to speak her mind," said Menendez.

On Wednesday, the Senate endured a nail-biting marathon vote on another nomination that frayed but kept intact the chamber's recent bipartisan spirit toward nominations. That involved B. Todd Jones, whom the chamber ultimately approved to become director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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