By Jeff Zeleny, Kevin Liptak and Kaitlan Collins, CNN
(CNN) — President Joe Biden has made final decisions on several high-profile ambassador posts around the world and is poised to announce the first slate of nominees in the coming days as he prepares to set off on his first overseas trip since taking office.
The White House has started notifying countries of the President’s choices, officials said, which is one of the final steps before the ambassador nominations are formally made. Extensive vetting, along with a desire to find a diverse roster of candidates, has caused repeated delays but officials said an announcement of the top diplomats could come next week.
“We hope to have more soon,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, adding that the notification process of officials in host countries was already underway.
A White House official said Friday that it was the administration’s goal to make the announcements before the President leaves next week for his first trip abroad. Yet the timeline has been repeatedly moved back, so the official declined to guarantee the goal would be reached.
Top diplomats to China, Japan, Israel, India and several European countries are expected to be among those included in the first wave of ambassador nominees. The list includes several top donors, former senators and their spouses, people familiar with the selection tell CNN.
One of the biggest questions still hanging over the search for US ambassadors is for the Court of St. James, which is the prestigious post in the United Kingdom. It has been the subject of considerable discussion on both sides of the Atlantic, but several officials told CNN they weren’t certain whom Biden had settled on or whether a final choice would even be made before Biden is set to visit next week on the first stop of his weeklong tour. Several candidates have turned the post down, which extended the selection process, a person familiar with the matter said.
Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat who has served presidents of both political parties, is expected to be nominated as ambassador to China.
Rahm Emanuel, the former Chicago mayor, Illinois congressman and the first White House chief of staff in the Obama administration, is poised to be nominated as ambassador to Japan.
Tom Nides, a former deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration and a longtime executive at Morgan Stanley, is expected to be tapped as ambassador to Israel. This post has taken on even greater significance in the wake of the ceasefire reached late last month between Israel and Gaza and the expected fall of longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The nominees are subject to confirmation hearings in the closely divided Senate, which means none of the ambassadors are likely to be in their posts before late summer or early fall.
The timing has put the Biden administration behind the pace set by his most recent predecessors and has led to frustration among some State Department officials and top donors, who have been in something of a holding pattern for months. Foreign diplomats in Washington have also privately raised questions about the delays.
Vickie Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, is also a leading contender to serve as ambassador to Germany, people familiar with the process told CNN.
People tracking the process closely, including former ambassadors, donors and State Department officials also say Cindy McCain, wife of the late Sen. John McCain, is expected to be nominated as the US envoy to the United Nations Food Program in Rome.
Denise Bauer, an ambassador to Belgium in the Obama administration and leader of Women for Biden, is poised to be tapped as ambassador to France. And Michael Adler, a Miami real estate developer who has a long friendship with Biden, is expected to be nominated for the post in Belgium.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who served on Biden’s vice presidential selection committee, is expected to be selected as ambassador to India.
The President is also considering former Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar for ambassador to Mexico. Former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill and former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake are also being considered for other posts, people familiar with the matter say, as is Claire Lucas, a top Biden fundraiser and chair of the LGBTQ Victory Institute Board of Directors.
At least two high-level contenders were taken out of consideration in recent weeks, a personal familiar with the matter said, after the vetting of finances and statements on social media emerged as a potential challenge during the confirmation process.
Above all, a senior administration official said, one of the biggest reasons for the delay is that the selection has become something of a game of musical chairs. Several donors or friends of Biden expressed interest in one position, but were offered second choices, given the overall list of nominees.
“Diversity among ambassadors is just as important to the President as diversity in his Cabinet,” a White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk about the closed-door process. “And that is a process.”
Even since Biden has taken office, the political circumstances in several key countries has changed. Israel is the greatest example, with a deadly conflict last month giving way to a ceasefire and likely a new prime minister.
The Biden administration’s policy on the Middle East will be scrutinized during confirmation hearings, which are expected to be held later this summer.
From Capitol Hill to the Middle East, the selection of Nides has been the subject of considerable discussion for weeks among close watchers of Israel.
A longtime top Democratic donor, Nides served as chief operating officer at Morgan Stanley before stepping down in 2010 to work under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He returned to Morgan Stanley in 2013 as vice chairman. Nides is married to CNN executive Virginia Moseley, who is senior vice president of domestic newsgathering.
A White House official declined to say whether a formal offer had been extended to Nides or nominees to other countries but told CNN: “We are not commenting on anyone and no one is final until they’re announced.”
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