Full Senate approves Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to Russia

Confirmation is rapid and unambiguous for former Utah governor, three-time diplomat.<br>

FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2012, file photo, Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman waves as he is driven away from a campaign stop in Charleston, S.C. Huntsman said he's ruling out another run for the White House in 2016. Huntsman told reporters in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, that he was replying with a "strong no" when asked if he would enter the upcoming presidential race. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is headed to Moscow.

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Huntsman as the U.S. ambassador to Russia without objection in a voice vote. The confirmation was unusually rapid for the one-time presidential candidate who earned rave reviews from senators eager to see him as America’s top envoy to the country during a tense time in U.S.-Russia relations.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, heralded the speedy confirmation.

“This particular ambassadorship requires a great deal of poise, intellect, and experience, and I have no doubt that Jon is just the man for the job,” Hatch said.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said Huntsman was a great fit. “I think Huntsman is a terrific choice,” McFaul said. “We need the best for this very hard assignment.”

Huntsman said Thursday he was ready to take on the job.

“I’m deeply grateful to the president for his trust and to the Senate for their confirmation,” he said. “The critical work ahead will require our very best efforts. Mary Kaye and I are honored to serve,” he added, mentioning his wife.

Huntsman, a seasoned diplomat, noted during his confirmation hearing that he was “under no illusion” that the posting would be “easy or simple.”

“Our relationship with Russia is among the most consequential and complex foreign-policy challenges we face,” he said.

It’s even more complicated now with a special counsel and congressional committees investigating Russia’s meddling in the election and whether there was any collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign. Russia and the United States have imposed sanctions against each other, expelling diplomats and seizing some ancillary properties within their borders.

Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, even as senior Republicans and Democrats in Congress have raised criticized the Putin administration.

And the complications don’t stop there.

As ambassador, Huntsman will have to deal with Russia’s takeover of Crimea in neighboring Ukraine as well as work with the Kremlin on various issues like North Korea’s attempts to develop a nuclear missile-program and Russia’s actions and intentions toward Europe and NATO.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, tweeted his support: “Congratulations to Jon Huntsman Jr. on confirmation as Ambassador to Russia. His experience and clear-eyed resolve are badly needed.”

Sen. Mike Lee, who served as then-Gov. Huntsman's top legal adviser, expressed confidence in his former boss' ability to meet the challenge.

Describing Huntsman as “a dedicated public servant and a good, personal friend,” Lee said, “I know he will tackle this role and its responsibilities with the same efficiency, effectiveness, and fine-tuned diplomacy that he applied to his roles as Chinese ambassador and governor of the great State of Utah.”

While the White House took months to formally nominate Huntsman after saying in March he was the pick to serve as ambassador to the Russian Federation, the Senate has moved quickly.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave Huntsman its backing Tuesday, just a week after he appeared before the panel to say there was “no question” Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election and that he would work to burnish relations between the two countries.

I am enthusiastically supporting this nominee and hoping we can get him to Moscow as soon as possible,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md.

I couldn’t agree more,” said Sen. Bob Corker of Tennesee, the committee chairman.

There are hundreds of nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate but Huntsman was pushed up on the chamber’s calendar given the clear support among senators.

This is the fourth time the Senate has confirmed Huntsman without objection – previously as U.S ambassador to China and Singapore and as deputy U.S. trade representative. Huntsman, elected twice as Utah governor, ran a short-lived presidential campaign in the 2012 cycle.

Editor’s note: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s brother Paul Huntsman is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune.