U.S. Senate confirms first ambassador to Russia in five months

WASHINGTON, July 31 Fri Aug 1, 2014 12:14am EDT

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WASHINGTON, July 31 (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously approved President Barack Obama's choice of John Tefft to be the next American ambassador to Russia, filling a post that had been vacant since February.

Tefft is a former envy to Ukraine under Obama, and to Georgia and Lithuania under Republican President George W. Bush.

Tefft will go to Moscow as U.S.-Russia ties are severely strained over Washington's sanctions on Russia due to its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Dozens of Obama's nominees to be ambassadors have been held up for months by bitter partisan fighting in the U.S. Senate. Obama only nominated Tefft earlier this month.

But both Republicans and Democrats said the dire state of U.S. relations with Russia made it imperative to let Tefft jump the queue so he could head to Moscow as quickly as possible.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Senate carried out his confirmation hearing, committee vote and confirmation by the full Senate in just a few days this week, just in time for Congress to leave Washington on Aug. 1 for a five-week recess.

However, Republicans refused to accede to a Democratic request to confirm several other ambassadors before leaving town. That group included Obama's nominee for Guatemala, one of the Central American countries involved in the current U.S. child immigrant crisis.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan; Editing by Michael Perry)

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