Senate confirms veteran diplomat William Burns as CIA director

Without opposition, the Senate confirmed veteran diplomat William Burns as CIA director on Thursday, giving him control of the nation's premier spy agency as the U.S. government confronts threats from China, Russia, Iran and elsewhere.

The approval, by voice vote, came soon after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, lifted a hold he had placed on the nomination.

Burns is a former ambassador to Russia and Jordan who served at the State Department for more than 30 years under both Democratic and Republican presidents. He pledged at his confirmation hearing last month that he would deliver "unvarnished" intelligence to the White House. At that hearing, he described China as posing the "biggest geopolitical test" to the United States and said that Russia, though a declining world power in some ways, remained a disruptive and potent threat.

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This week, intelligence agencies released an assessment showing that Russia and Iran had sought to influence the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, but that China did not interfere.

Burns was warmly received by Republicans at his Senate hearing, but his confirmation was held up this month by Cruz. The senator said he would release it only when the administration "meets its legal obligation to report and sanction the ships and companies" building a new gas pipeline from Russia that is strongly opposed in the U.S. and Eastern Europe.

Senate Intelligence Committee Hears Testimony From Nominee For CIA Director William J. Burns

William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, testifies during his Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

Like the Trump administration before it, the Biden administration is opposed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline because it believes it will harm European energy security, particularly for countries in Eastern and Central Europe like Ukraine and Poland. Last month, the administration added a layer of sanctions to a Russian vessel and the ship owner for their work on the pipeline. Senior Republican lawmakers called the move inadequate and have demanded stronger action.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement condemning the pipeline as a bad deal "intended to divide Europe and weaken European energy security."

"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," Blinken said.

Soon after the statement was issued, Cruz lifted his hold.