"It's just perplexing," spokeswoman Marie Harf said of Cruz's action. "The notion that he would put a hold on State Department nominees when he really has questions for the FAA just doesn't really make sense."
The objective of the flight ban "was purely security and safety of American citizens, pilots, people on these planes," she said. "The nominees we have up in the Senate are for some very critical positions. They need to move forward. If everybody's concerned about our foreign policy, we need people in those positions."
A day earlier, Harf called Cruz's comments "ridiculous and offensive."
Catherine Frazier, Cruz's spokeswoman, fired back that Obama's foreign policy was itself "ridiculous and offensive."
The holds mean Senate Democrats would have to convince at least five Republicans to join them to approve a new ambassador to Russia as well as ambassadors to key U.S. allies including France, Norway, South Korea and Turkey. Envoys involved in arms control and nuclear nonproliferation also are affected.
The reality is none of the nominations are priorities given the Senate's other competing interests and many will likely have to wait longer anyhow. A larger Senate logjam over issues unrelated to foreign policy has brought confirmations to a crawl, prompting complaints from Secretary of State John Kerry and White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday he recently spoke by telephone with Obama about the issue. There has been a slight uptick in confirmations in the last couple of weeks.