Washington — The Senate unanimously confirmed William Burns as the next director of the CIA on Thursday, weeks after the Senate Intelligence Committee advanced his nomination.
Burns' confirmation had been held up by Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who sought to pressure the Biden administration to issue sanctions on entities involved in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — a years-long, multi-billion-dollar project that would allow Russia to ship gas directly to Germany, bypassing U.S. ally Ukraine.
The Senate approved Burns' nomination by voice vote Thursday afternoon after Cruz lifted his hold. Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, applauded his confirmation, saying he is "confident that Director Burns, a loyal public servant, will lead the CIA with integrity and objectivity, and provide the leadership and support that the brave men and women of the CIA deserve."
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines also welcomed Burns' confirmation. "Bill is an extraordinary public servant, having dedicated the majority of his life to government service representing our country with distinction as a diplomat and a leader around the world," Haines said in statement. "I look forward to working with him to advance the Intelligence Community's mission in service to our nation."
A career diplomat, Burns sailed through a largely amicable confirmation hearing last month, where he told senators he would focus on four main priorities as director: challenges from China, boosting the spy agency's technological prowess, strengthening its workforce, and boosting partnerships within the U.S. intelligence community and abroad.
He committed to developing new capabilities within CIA to help deter future cyber incursions like the SolarWinds breach, and pledged to ensure that agency officers who were injured in microwave attacks thought to have been carried out by Russia received proper care.
"If I'm confirmed as director of CIA, I will have no higher priority than taking care of people, of colleagues and their families," Burns testified.
In a statement, Cruz said he lifted his hold on Burns' nomination after Secretary of State Antony Blinken made what Cruz called a "strong declaration" alluding to sanctions designed to impede the Nord Stream 2 project.
"As the President has said, Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal — for Germany, for Ukraine, and for our Central and Eastern European allies and partners," Blinken said in his statement. "As multiple U.S. administrations have made clear, this pipeline is a Russian geopolitical project intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security."
Blinken added that the State Department "reiterates its warning that any entity involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline risks U.S. sanctions and should immediately abandon work on the pipeline."
Cruz also lifted a hold on Brian McKeon, nominated by the president to be deputy secretary of state for management and resources, but he said he would continue to delay the confirmation of deputy secretary of state nominee Wendy Sherman "until the full sanctions mandated by Congress are in fact broadly imposed" against entities involved in completing the pipeline.
Burns succeeds Gina Haspel, who led the agency since 2018. She announced her retirement from the agency in January of this year. CIA Deputy Director David Cohen has served as the agency's acting director.
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