The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a veteran diplomat, to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations, as President Biden’s administration seeks to become a more active force in the global body, which was marked by American retreat during the Trump administration.
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield’s confirmation, by a vote of 78-20, is the latest chapter in a rise that started in her birthplace of Louisiana, where she attended segregated schools and experienced a childhood, in the early 1950s, punctuated by racial tension.
As America’s top representative to the United Nations, Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, 68, has said she will set about restoring alliances and re-engaging in multilateral efforts to address global problems like the coronavirus pandemic.
“America is back,” said Ms. Thomas-Greenfield, when Mr. Biden announced her nomination in November, echoing a theme of Mr. Biden’s in talks with other world leaders. “Multilateralism is back. Diplomacy is back.”
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield joined the foreign service in 1982. From 2008 to 2012, she served as ambassador to Liberia, before moving on to become the director general of the foreign service for about a year. From 2013 to 2017, she served as the top United States diplomat for African affairs, where she helped oversee the response to the Ebola epidemic. In 2017, she was among the diplomats pushed out of the department by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
During her tenure, she became known for what she calls “Gumbo Diplomacy,” referring to the Cajun dish she often prepared alongside her foreign counterparts to break down barriers during diplomatic conversations.
Republicans lawmakers on Capitol Hill have expressed some concern, most notably around a speech she gave in October 2019 on Africa’s relationship with both China and the United States.
In the speech, at Savannah State University, she extolled the benefits of American cooperation with China in cultivating strengthened relations with the developing countries of Africa, one of her main areas of expertise.
The speech was conspicuously lacking any criticism of China’s human-rights record or pattern of predatory-lending practices in developing countries desperate for investment. It was sponsored by the Confucius Institute, a Chinese government educational organization that American officials have accused of spreading pro-China propaganda in schools in the United States and elsewhere.
Ms. Thomas-Greenfield expressed regret for having agreed to make the speech but strongly contested the criticism of her views. “If you look at what I have done prior to that,” she said, “there is no question that I am not at all naïve about what the Chinese are doing and I have called them out on a regular basis.”