DeMint Stymies Obama’s Religious Diplomacy Nominee

Samuel G. Freedman reports at the Times that Sen. Jim DeMint is in all likelihood responsible for the secret hold on President Obama’s nomination of Rev. Dr. Suzan D. Johnson Cook to be Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

Freedman laments:

[L]ast month, the arc of Ms. Cook’s career drastically plunged. The woman who had thrived against basketball elbows, macho newsrooms and sexist churchmen ran into the strange ways of the United States Congress. Without public debate or a formal vote, her nomination to be the Obama administration’s special ambassador for international religious liberty quietly and cryptically died.

She was the nominee of a Democratic president, needing only the approval of a Democratic majority in the Senate. In the Foreign Relations Committee, the first step in her confirmation, Democrats held an 11-8 advantage and the ranking Republican, Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, supported her.

But by the means of a single senator’s use of a privilege known as a hold-over letter, the committee was forced to delay its vote on her in December, meaning that the Congressional session ended and the nomination expired. It remains unclear whether the Obama administration will put her up again in the current session or try someone else. Ms. Cook has declined to speak to the media.

A DeMint spokesperson tells Freedman that the Senator had “concerns” about Cook’s “lack of international diplomacy qualifications.”

Freedman acknowledges that others raised those same concerns when Obama nominated Cook (also known as “Dr. Sujay”) in June. Here at RD, Anthea wrote at the time:

Dr. Sujay’s resumé, with no discernible international policy experience, her close ties to the Clinton administration, and several ill-defined business ventures, suggest that President Obama cares little about supporting religious freedom around the world. As Mark Silk put it succinctly, “This is the Religion Ambassador?” The Washington Post is carefully tiptoeing around the question of Rev. Cook’s appointment, quoting the first Ambassador-at-Large, Thomas Farr, who called Cook an outstanding pastor, but also lamented her lack of experience.

Yet her friend, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lauded her as “an experienced religious leader with a passion for human rights and an impressive record of public service.” Coming from the Secretary of State, that is high praise indeed. Yet praise is not enough to turn a motivational preacher into a cogent, respected ambassador for religious freedom. President Obama’s appointment of a woman with no discernible training in diplomacy, interreligious dialogue, or strategic international policy is disappointing. From my perspective, this appointment is an embarrassing, patronizing attempt to honor gender, black church tradition, and a reward to a political ally of the Secretary of State.

Freedman objects to her nomination dying in committee because the “legitimate questions about Ms. Cook’s background, though, quickly gave way to a condescending caricature of her as a ‘motivational speaker.’” But her motivational speaking was her background, and perhaps, despite DeMint’s disingenuous way of going about blocking the nomination, the Obama administration realized those hurdles and isn’t, as Freedman reports, going to attempt to renominate her. As Anthea noted, “With all respect to Dr. Sujay, the issues of religious freedom around the world, from Muslim-Christian violence in Africa, to protests by Buddhist monks in Myanmar, to religious repression in North Korea, should not be entrusted to a person whose most recent speaking engagement included a May 2010 women’s conference called ‘Don’t Block My Flow.’”

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email