— Domani Spero
This past August, we blogged about the social media campaign opposing the nomination of George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway (see Opposition to George J. Tsunis Nomination as Norway Ambassador Now a Social Media Campaign). At that time we wrote:
Given the many challenges facing our country these days, we don’t think the White House appreciates this new kind of headache. I mean, who would? But we also suspect that it would not withdraw the nomination on its own. Once it nominated Mr. Tsunis, the WH is bound to stand by its nominee. The only way we think the WH would withdraw this nomination is if Mr. Tsunis , himself, withdraws his name from consideration. That might be the most prudent action for Mr. Tsunis to do here. That would give President Obama a fresh start.
It took a while but today, it finally happened.
“It is over,” Tsunis said in a telephone interview with Newsday’s Tom Brune. He did not withdraw his nomination, the Senate clock simply ran out, but he did say he would decline to be nominated again for the 114th Congress. President Obama now has an opportunity to pick a new nominee as ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.The White House Office of Personnel needs to find a new nominee, and hopefully that will happen fairly quickly and with more thought put into it.
A Senate aide confirmed Tsunis was out. Senate Democrats had attempted to wrap many unconfirmed nominees into a package for approval, Tsunis said, but the final measure left out his nomination.
Tsunis said he was grateful to be considered and went through a “tremendous life-learning experience.”
Tsunis said he would decline to be nominated again in the next Congress.
“I don’t think anybody would think it’s a good idea,” he said. “Norway has been without an ambassador for two years and the overarching thing should be: Let’s get them a first-rate ambassador.”
Read in full here.
Among the three most controversial nominees this cycle, two had already been confirmed. The one difference with the Tsunis nomination is that unlike the Mamet and Bell nominations, there were people who active lobbied Congress not to confirm this nomination. It turned out that the Norwegian-Americans in Minnesota and the Dakotas were pretty hard headed once they got their mind on one thing. And they nagged their elected representatives. Once the entire congressional delegations of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota went on the record to oppose this nomination,this was on life support.
The most recent ambassador to Norway, Barry White departed post in the fall of 2013. We should note for the record that we haven’t had a career ambassador appointed as US Ambassador to Oslo since President Lyndon Johnson appointed Margaret Joy Tibbetts, a career FSO sent there in 1964 and served until 1969.
There’s a lesson here somewhere, pay attention.
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- 15 Former AFSA Presidents Urge Senators to Oppose Confirmation of Ambassadorial Nominees to Norway, Hungary, and Argentina
- SFRC Clears Barber, Bell, Tsunis, Harper, Talwar, Rose, Gottemoeller, Chacon, Carroll (diplopundit.net)
- Norwegian-Americans Petition For Withdrawal of Tsunis Nomination as Ambassador to Norway (diplopundit.net)
- US Embassy Norway: Emergency Message on Foreign Fighters Returned From Syria Threat (diplopundit.net)
- US Embassy Oslo: Clueless on Norway, Murder Boards Next?(diplopundit.net)
— Domani Spero
All that hand wringing whether or not controversial Obama bundlers would get to post or not this year ends today. On December 2, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Argentina and Hungary.
Cal #892, Noah Mamet to be Ambassador to Argentina . Yeas and nays ordered on nomination. The nomination was confirme http://t.co/tIbbmZw4ao
— U.S. Senate Floor (@SenateFloor) December 2, 2014
Cal #631, Colleen Bell to be Ambassador to Hungary. Yeas and nays ordered on nomination. The nomination was confirmed http://t.co/tIbbmZw4ao
— U.S. Senate Floor (@SenateFloor) December 2, 2014
Ambassador-Designate Noah Mamet would replace Vilma Martinez who served in Buenos Aires from 2009-2013. He will soon take up residence at Palacio Bosch, the official residence of the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina designed by French architect René Sergent. The residence is considered Sergent’s finest work because of its stylistic unity and contextual relation to its environs, and according to State/OBO, was seminal to Argentine architectural taste.
The owner sold the residence to the United States Government in 1929 following recurrent propositions by U.S. Ambassador Robert Woods Bliss (Ambassador to Argentina from 1927-1933). Bliss, owner of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., who joined the Foreign Service in 1903 also purchased some of the furnishings, which he later donated to the residence. Major renovation of the building was undertaken in 1994. The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ first totally historic restoration began, using many Argentine artisans and craftsmen who were direct descendants of the original experts. 40,000 ft² palace, lots of rooms but we don’t know the state of the bathrooms.
Embassy Buenos Aires acting ambassador has been Kevin K. Sullivan who began work as Chargé d’Affaires (a.i.) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires since June 2013. A career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, he was posted previously in Argentina from 1997-2000. The Embassy Buenos Aires is up to speed and has already announced the confirmation of the new ambassador on its website, almost as soon as it happened.
Ambassador-Designate Colleen Bell would replace Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, who served as Ambassador to Budapest from 2010-2013. Not sure where is the ambassador’s residence there but she will soon hold office at the building at Szabadságtér 12 in Budapest’s Fifth District which has been home to the United States Legation and Embassy since 1935. It was designed by the architects Aladár Kármán and Gyula Ullman, who were hired by a commercial company called the Hungarian Hall of Commerce, Ltd., who had purchased the site on May 16, 1899. According to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest, during World War II, the Chancery Building operated under the Swiss Flag. There are stories that Jewish refugees were hidden in the lower levels of the building during the War. From November 4, 1956 to September 28, 1971, the Chancery also served as the home of Cardinal József Mindszenty, who took refuge there during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Cardinal lived in what is now the Ambassador’s office.
Embassy Budapest’s second in command is M. André Goodfriend who has served as Deputy Chief of Mission since August 2013. He previously served as the Consul General at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, from August 2009 until the embassy suspended operations in February 2012.
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— Domani Spero
On March 5, 2014, the AFSA Governing Board resolution says that “AFSA will send letters to the Senate and the White House expressing concern that the recent nominations for chief of mission positions in Norway, Hungary and Argentina appear to be based primarily on their status as financial contributors to political campaigns, which is in violation of the Foreign Service Act of 1980.”
On Friday, March 7, fifteen former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) wrote to Senators Reid, McConnell, Menendez, Corker, Franken, Klobuchar, McCain, Cardin, Mikulski, Warner, Kaine, Whitehouse and others, urging the non-confirmation of President Obama’s nominees for ambassadors to Norway, Hungary and Argentina.
Below is an excerpt from their letter:
Among the nominees for ambassadorships currently under consideration by the Senate, three have generated considerable public controversy: George Tsunis (Norway), Colleen Bell (Hungary), and Noah Mamet (Argentina). The nominations of Mr. Tsunis and Ms. Bell have been forwarded to the full Senate by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and trade union of career members of the Foreign Service, we urge you to oppose granting Senate consent to these three candidates. Although we have no reason to doubt that the nominees are conscientious and worthy Americans, the fact that they appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns, with minimal demonstrated qualifications for their posts, has subjected them to widespread public ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad. As a result, their effectiveness as U.S. representatives in their host countries would be severely impaired from the start. Their nominations also convey a disrespectful message, that relations with the host country are not significant enough to demand a chief of mission with relevant expertise.
These three nominations represent a continuation of an increasingly unsavory and unwise practice by both parties. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “The spoils or patronage theory is that public office is primarily designed for partisan plunder.” Sadly it has persisted, even after President Nixon’s acknowledged rewarding of ambassadorial nominations to major campaign donors was exposed.
During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama recognized the appropriateness of these guidelines, and promised to respect them. The time for the Senate to begin enforcing its own guidelines set forth in law for U.S. diplomatic chiefs of mission is now. The nation cannot afford otherwise.
The signatories of the letter are Marshall Adair, Thomas Boyatt, Kenneth Bleakley, Theodore Eliot, Franklyn A Harris, William Harrop, Dennis Hays, J. Anthony Holmes, Lars Hydle, Susan Johnson, Alphonse La Porta, John Limbert, John Naland, Lannon Walker, and Theodore Wilkinson.
One scenario where this might get off the hot topics column is if the nominees themselves recognize that their confirmation hearing performance and subsequent public ridicule would have an impact on their effectiveness as President Obama’s top representatives in their prospective host countries, and withdraw their names for consideration. This would be the less messy route, but we do not anticipate this happening or it would have happened already.
Another scenario is if we get to see more Senate confirmation hearings bungled under similar circumstances, with the accompanying public uproar, and more mockery from cable news and comedians day in and day out — which might, just might make President Obama think, “enough already.” If that happens, it might also forced him to revisit his promise that “the days of Michael Brown, Arabian Horse Judge, are over.” Well, that’s a lot of ifs and mights, so we’re not holding our breath.
There is, of course, the ultimate scenario that we have seen before, and no doubt, we’ll see again — Senators’ offices will acknowledge the former AFSA presidents’ letter and others like it, and then proceed to confirm the nominees (Senate holds for ambassadorial nominees seem reserved for nutty reasons like the case of an ancient boyfriend or the ethnic origin of the nominee’s wife). It is just a coincidence that some nominees are also contributors to the Senate Majority PAC, the party’s Senatorial Campaign, the party’s victory fund or even to the guys from the other party. Oh, but we are extraordinarily special and exceptional that way — watch.
* * *
- AFSA Releases Underwhelming Ambassador Guidelines For “Successful Performance” (diplopundit.net)
- AFSA Threatens to Sue State Department Over Ambassadors Credentials, Again (diplopundit.net)
- New guidelines won’t change pay-for-play ambassadors (washingtonpost.com)
- Diplomat union threatens suit over envoy creds (sfgate.com)
- Foreign Service Pros Threaten to Sue Over Ambassadors’ Competence (abcnews.go.com)
- State Department employees union demands documents on embattled ambassador nominees (washingtonpost.com)
—By Domani Spero
On June 21, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Denise Bauer as the next Ambassador to Belgium. The WH released the following brief bio:
Denise Bauer is Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Belvedere Community Foundation in Belvedere, California. Ms. Bauer was Finance Chair for Women for Obama from 2011 to 2012, and served on the Obama for America National Finance Committee from 2011 to 2012 and from 2007 to 2008. From 2008 to 2012, she served on the Democratic National Committee, serving as Chair and Co-chair of the Women’s Leadership Forum and as Co-chair of the National Issues Conference. Prior to this, Ms. Bauer worked in television news and public affairs. From 1993 to 1994, she was a Public Affairs Officer for the American Red Cross Bay Area in San Francisco. From 1990 to 1992, she was a freelance film and video producer in Los Angeles, and from 1988 to 1990, she was the News Producer for the North American Bureau of Nine Network Australia in Los Angeles. She began her career in television in 1985 as a Field Producer and Researcher for KCBS-TV News in Los Angeles.
Ms. Bauer received a B.A. from Occidental College.
The Center for Public Integrity notes that the actual amount Ms. Bauer raised could be much higher as the Obama campaign only used broad ranges to describe the activities of its bundlers, the highest of which was “more than $500,000.” She’s considered one of the top ten bundlers for President Obama in the 2012 campaign.
The NYT’s list of Obama Top Fund-Raisers in September 2012 listed Ms. Bauer as a homemaker from Belvedere Tiburon, California who raised a total of $4,367,187 since 2007.
If confirmed by the Senate, Ms. Bauer would replace Ambassador Howard Gutman. According to OpenSecrets.org, Ambassador Gutman was one of the two dozen major campaign bundlers who became ambassadors following the 2008 election. The outgoing ambassador raised at least $775,000 for President Obama’s 2008 campaign and first inauguration. The new nominee announced raised almost six times that amount for President Obama’s reelection campaign which may or may not mean anything for the 2016 bundlers who wants Belgium.
June 21, 2013 | President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
- More bundlers picked for plush ambassador posts (publicintegrity.org)
- Obama nominates two more fund-raisers as ambassadors (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)