Alaskan nominee for Arctic ambassador clears U.S. Senate panel

man in suit sitting at a table
Michael Sfraga at his March 7, 2024 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Senate video screenshot)

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday voted to advance the nomination of a Fairbanks man to be an ambassador to the Arctic region, despite Republican objections.

Geographer and Arctic policy expert Michael Sfraga would be the nation’s first ambassador to a polar region, if confirmed by the full Senate.

The top Republican on the committee suggested Sfraga was vulnerable to the “malign influence” of America’s adversaries. Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, cited Sfraga’s travel to China and Russia and his participation in conferences with foreign dignitaries.

Those suspicions rankle Sen. Lisa Murkowski, recommended Sfraga to President Biden. Sfraga, she said, has extensive experience in the region.

“He’s at the center of all things Arctic,” Murkowski said in an interview at the Capitol. “And so yes, when there is an Arctic conference that happens to be in Shanghai, I was there. Dr. Sfraga was there. Now apparently —apparently — that’s being held out against him because he’s ‘gone to China.'”

At his March 7 confirmation hearing, Sfraga acknowledged that President Vladimir Putin spoke at a conference he once attended in Russia. Murkowski said there’s nothing suspicious about that.

“This was all before Putin invaded Ukraine. But yes, he has been there,” she said. “Yes, he has been at conferences where elected leaders may be there who now are no longer our friends.”

Murkowski said the committee voted along party lines to advance Sfraga. She said expects the nomination will be before the full Senate soon and that he’ll be confirmed.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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