WASHINGTON (AP) — Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who once called for Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race, won easy confirmation Thursday as U.S. ambassador to Russia, taking over a high-profile diplomatic post amid investigations into Moscow's election meddling.
The Senate approved Huntsman's nomination by voice vote. He breezed through his confirmation hearing last week as Republicans and Democrats praised his qualifications for the job.
The Senate also confirmed the nominations of John Bass to be ambassador to Afghanistan and Justin Hicks Siberell to be ambassador to Bahrain. Also approved was A. Wess Mitchell's nomination to be assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
Huntsman has twice served before as a U.S. ambassador. He was the nation's top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and ambassador to China under President Barack Obama before returning to the U.S. to run for president in 2012.
During his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Huntsman struck a tough tone amid heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow. The relationship has been marred in recent months by a series of expulsions of diplomats and closures of diplomatic missions.
Although Trump has called Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election a hoax pushed by Democrats to sully his victory at the polls, Huntsman said "there is no question, underline, no question" that Moscow interfered. He also said Russia "continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies" and disregards its commitments to arms control treaties.
Huntsman said he would not hesitate to remind Russian officials that they are accountable for their actions.
The former governor had an up-and-down relationship with Trump during last year's campaign. He was slow to endorse any candidate for the Republican nomination, though he did back Trump once he became the presumptive nominee. But Huntsman then called for Trump to drop out after the October release of a 2005 audio in which Trump was captured on a hot microphone making lewd comments about women.
Huntsman said then that the "campaign cycle has been nothing but a race to the bottom" and called for Trump's running mate, then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to top the GOP ticket.
Trump also went after Huntsman during his tenure as ambassador to Beijing. In a series of tweets in 2011 and 2012, the celebrity businessman called Huntsman a "lightweight" and "weak" and claimed that China "did a major number on us" during his tenure.
Huntsman and Trump buried their differences during Trump's transition.
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