The U.S. Senate is ready to begin Monday the voting process expected to install LSU alumna and Baker native Linda Thomas-Greenfield in one of the most visible federal posts.
Thomas-Greenfield was tapped by President Joe Biden to be the Ambassador to the United Nations.
“Louisiana is home,” Thomas-Greenfield texted Saturday. “From overcoming the adversity I faced early in life, to the values instilled in me by my parents and teachers, Louisiana has deeply shaped who I am and how I have represented America across the globe for 35 years.”
The U.S. Senate is expected Monday afternoon to vote on cloture, a procedure that will place a 30-hour limit on debate and thereby overcome any filibuster, according to two congressional aides. The final vote for confirmation is expected Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
With the support of Democratic and moderate Republican senators, few anticipate the 68-year-old diplomat losing.
President-Elect Joe Biden has tapped Baker native and LSU alumna Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
But Thomas-Greenfield’s confirmation hasn’t been smooth. In particular, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, claimed she is soft on China and uncovered a speech she gave in 2019 he said proves it.
Neither of Louisiana’s U.S. senators – Bill Cassidy and John N. Kennedy, both Republicans – would say publicly how they would vote later this week.
But Cassidy introduced the nominee at her Jan. 27 Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing with undiluted praise.
“The ambassador's career has been one of distinguishment as a member of the diplomatic corps of the United States. She has held high-level positions in the State Department and has served abroad as well,” said Cassidy, according to the Congressional transcript of the committee hearing. “In addition to her accomplishments as U.S. representative abroad, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield holds numerous honors and awards and in 2016 even had a school named after her, the Linda Thomas-Greenfield Preparatory School” in Liberia, Africa.
As one of the first African Americans to join the foreign service in 1982, Thomas-Greenfield’s narrative includes efforts to overcome racial prejudice to become ambassador to Liberia under President George W. Bush, a Republican, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs under President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
The eldest surviving child of religious parents who never finished middle school, Thomas-Greenfield grew up near the now-closed Leland College, a historically Black higher education institution in the Baton Rouge suburb of Baker. She was the first person in her family to graduate high school, the all-Black Northwestern High School in Zachary in 1970. Baker High School, at the time, was segregated.
She became one of the first female Black students to graduate LSU.
Unlike most of her predecessors, Thomas-Greenfield has a long career in the U.S. Foreign Service, including assignments in Jamaica, Nigeria, The Gambia, Kenya, Pakistan, Switzerland, and Liberia.
But during the days before her confirmation hearings, much of the focus was on Cruz’s allegations that Thomas-Greenfield was soft on China.
Cruz voiced concern about a speech Thomas-Greenfield gave in October 2019 at an historic black college, Savannah State University, which was funded by the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government foundation. The Trump Administration shut down the Institute's U.S. activities, saying that the organization disseminated propaganda.
In the speech, which Thomas-Greenfield said was mostly aimed at enticing people of color to join the foreign service, she also said both the U.S. and China could be positive influences in Africa. "China is in a unique position to spread these ideals given its strong footprint on the continent,” Thomas-Greenfield said during the speech, according to The Washington Post.
"At a time when China, I believe, poses the single greatest geopolitical threat to the United States in the next century,” Cruz said, “we need a U.N. ambassador who will stand up to China, China’s pervasive influence at the United Nations, and given her record, I have no confidence that this nominee would do so."
As a young girl growing up in Baker, one of my biggest dreams was joining the Peace Corps. As the oldest of eight children, I always had a str…
Thomas-Greenfield was quizzed about the speech by senators of both parties.
“Truthfully, I wish I had not accepted the specific invitation, and I came away from the experience frankly alarmed at the way the Confucius Institute were engaging with the black community in Georgia,” she testified. “It reminded me of what I'd seen in Africa, the Chinese government going after those in need with fewer resources. I gave the speech as a speech on Africa, as a way of recommending to Africans how they can address their challenges with China.”
Members of the Senate committee said that during the past four years, as the Trump administration backed away from the United Nations, the Chinese had stepped forward. One of the most striking examples of America’s diminished leadership came when the body refused to support economic sanctions for Iran.
“The Chinese Communist Party is attempting to reshape the UN to serve the needs of the party,” said Chairman Jim Risch, R-Idaho. He also gave Thomas-Greenfield a pass on the speech. “I can tell you that there isn't a person sitting in this room that hasn't given a speech that they don't wish they had back.”
“Senator, if I'm confirmed, I commit to working with this committee to counter China at the UN, to fight against all efforts by the Chinese government to add harmful language to the UN resolutions, and to resist China's efforts to overfill key UN positions with Chinese citizens,” Thomas-Greenfield replied.
“I have no doubt that Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield is someone who is clear-eyed about the challenges we face from China’s government, about regaining U.S. leverage and influence in the Security Council, about re-engaging our allies and holding Iran accountable, and about standing up when Israel is subject to biased attacks,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, who became chair of the U.S. Foreign Relations Committee.
The committee voted 18 to 4 to recommend the nominee to the full Senate.
Thomas-Greenfield, if confirmed this week, would be the second Louisiana native to hold the U.N. ambassador’s position. Andrew Young, who was raised in New Orleans but came to prominence as a civil rights activist and politician in Atlanta, was named to the post in 1977 by President Jimmy Carter.
But the list of Louisiana natives holding august posts in the federal government is quite short.
Virginian Zachary Taylor was a resident of Baton Rouge when elected to the presidency in 1848. Edward Douglass White, of Thibodaux, was the 9th U.S. Supreme Court chief justice at the turn of the 20th Century. New Orleanians Moon Landrieu was in Carter’s cabinet and Lindy Boggs was U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See at The Vatican.
Danny Ray Brouillette, who headed the U.S. Energy Department during Donald Trump’s last two years as president, was born in Paincourtville. The University of Maryland alum came to prominence as an energy policy expert in Washington, D.C., and Texas.
Thomas-Greenfield’s husband, Lafayette Greenfield, also worked at the State Department, as does their daughter, Lindsay Jamila Greenfield. Their son, Lafayette Greenfield II, who the family calls “Deuce,” is a partner in the Washington, D.C. branch of the Seattle-based law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
Thomas-Greenfield said she put Louisiana in her rearview mirror after graduating LSU because she felt segregation limited opportunities. But the pull of home brought her back. Both her children spent many summers visiting relatives here.
She perhaps is most famous for her “Gumbo Diplomacy.” While overseas Thomas-Greenfield used South Louisiana’s food culture of communal cooking in the kitchen followed by long hours of conversation at the table to relax the often tradition-bound diplomats.
“Her personal style of diplomacy, called ‘Gumbo Diplomacy' by her, inspired by her native Louisiana, is a way to reach out and connect with others and break down barriers to connect with people and solve problems,” said U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware.