President Joe Biden’s pick to serve as ambassador to the African Union twice failed the Foreign Service Officer Test and said she struggled in particular with the "English grammar section."
In a July 2021 interview with Ghana's CitiTV, then-United States ambassador to Ghana Stephanie Sanders Sullivan recounted her "strange" first attempt to complete the Foreign Service Officer Test, a written exam required for most career diplomats.
"I couldn’t even get through the English grammar section, which was my forte," said Sullivan, a native English speaker and Brown University graduate. The diplomat, who Biden nominated last November to serve as the chief envoy to the entire African continent, said she bombed the test because she "was on village time." Though it's not clear what "village time" means, Sullivan says she left a third of the questions blank, leading her to fail the exam. Nevertheless, she persisted.
"There's a little bit of that 'Little Engine That Could': I think I can, I think I can," Sullivan told the interviewer. "So, the next year I tried again, and I also didn't pass."
The ambassador to the African Union has grown increasingly important as Washington attempts to strengthen ties with the continent as a bulwark against Chinese influence. The CCP's Belt and Road initiative entices developing countries with the promise of infrastructure projects and low-interest loans, which often leave the nations in debt to Beijing. Senior American officials have visited an African nation four times in 2023 alone in an effort to shore up alliances on the continent. Vice President Kamala Harris recently concluded a high-profile African tour.
Sullivan's exam failures are just two of many missteps that have come to light during her confirmation process. Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio) last Thursday took to the Senate floor to criticize Sullivan's history of advocating for left-wing causes such as transgender rights and confronting "systemic racism." Vance questioned whether Sullivan, whose diplomatic career includes stints as ambassador to the Republic of the Congo and deputy assistant secretary for African affairs, is qualified for the post.
A Senate source told the Washington Free Beacon other conservative lawmakers have reservations about her qualifications as well. Vance's objections put Sullivan's nominations in peril and may force Democrats to put her up for a traditional floor vote, meaning she would need 60 votes and some Republican support.
As ambassador to Ghana, Sullivan raised the pride flag at the American embassy and held a "diplomatic mission pride event," despite the "ever present" COVID-19 pandemic. During a virtual Fourth of July celebration in 2020, Sullivan decried George Floyd’s death and said "it falls to us, this generation, to recognize the pervasiveness of systemic racism."
Moves such as those, Vance charged, are part of a broader pattern by the White House of "moralizing and lecturing countries that don’t want anything to do with it." Biden’s 2024 budget proposal, for example, earmarks nearly $400 million to help advance "inclusive and responsible technology development" for the LGBTQ community in Africa.
"If you’re in Ghana, what do you want: a lecture from a woke white woman in America, or do you want someone to help you build hospitals, roads, and bridges? It’s an easy answer," Vance said.
The State Department defended Sullivan’s nomination on Thursday and said her past activism is consistent with the Biden administration’s broader foreign policy goals. "There’s a lot of areas as it relates to Africa where there’s immense potential for cooperation, whether it be addressing climate change, deepening economic and trade ties," a spokesman said.