U.S. Senate confirms Trump donor Rakolta as ambassador to UAE

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate approved businessman John Rakolta on Tuesday as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, making the long-time Republican donor the first political appointee ever to hold the position.

The Senate confirmed Rakolta by 63 to 30, amid concern over instability in the Middle East following an attack on Saturday on Saudi Arabia that knocked out more than half of the kingdom’s oil production.

President Donald Trump nominated the 72-year-old Rakolta for the position in May 2018. The position in Abu Dhabi has been vacant since the resignation of career diplomat Barbara Leaf in March 2018.

Rakolta is chief executive of Walbridge, a Michigan construction firm. He has made large donations for decades to Republicans, including $250,000 for Trump’s inauguration, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Rakolta also was a finance chairman for the unsuccessful 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns for Mitt Romney, according to the Detroit News. Romney, now a U.S. senator from Utah, is chairman of the Senate subcommittee whose jurisdiction includes the UAE.

At his confirmation, Rakolta was questioned about his company’s past business activities in the UAE. He acknowledged to senators that as a political appointee he would bring different attributes to the embassy than an official with diplomatic experience.

It has long been a tradition for presidents from both parties to nominate major donors and campaign supporters for ambassadorships.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien