Trump Nominates Businessman David B. Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary

Posted: 3:09 am ET

 

On February 13, the White House announced the nomination of David B. Cornstein to be U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. The WH released he following brief bio:

David B. Cornstein of New York, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to Hungary.  Mr. Cornstein is chairman of Pinnacle Advisors, Ltd and was previously CEO, president, and ultimately chairman emeritus of Finlay Enterprise, a billion-dollar NASDAQ Stock Exchange Company.  A native New Yorker, Mr. Cornstein served as chairman of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation and as vice chair of the city’s Economic Development Corporation.  He was also chair of the New York State Olympic Games commission and a board member of the Battery Park City Authority and of the Jacob Javits Development Corporation.   He has been recognized as Man of the Year by the Chemotherapy Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.  He earned his B.A. from Lafayette College and M.B.A from New York University.

If confirmed he would succeed Colleen Bradley Bell (1967–) who was appointed to the U.S. Embassy in Budapest from 2015-2017. We have to go back to the 1990’s to find the most recent career diplomat appointed to Hungary and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and that’s Charles H. Thomas (1934–1998) who served from  July 2, 1990–January 11, 1994. Note that career diplomat Mark A. Goodfriend (1957–) served as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim from September 2013–January 2015.  Other appointees who served in Budapest include George H. Walker (1931–)Herbert Claiborne Pell (1884–1961), and Martin Joseph Anthony Hillenbrand (1915–2005)

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Ambassador Klemm Holds Banned #Szekler Flag in Romania, Reportedly Just Want to Be Polite

Posted: 3:35 pm ET
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A couple of years ago, the Hungarian Spectrum posted about The War of the Flags: Diplomatic Spat Over Szekler Territorial Autonomy. A diplomatic spat over a flag. Today, the AP reports on the controversy involving the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and the same flag, the Szekler flag.

On September 14, the US Embassy in Bucharest (@AmbasadaSUA) tweeted a photo of the visit to Sfântu Gheorghe by the U.S. Ambassador to Romania Hans Klemm and his wife.  They did not post the controversial photo of the ambassador with the flag but it was posted on Facebook by the mayor of Sfântu Gheorghe, Antal Arpad according to social media coverage. The media has not been friendly. This one says that “It is time to get over an alleged ignorance of the American ambassador vis-a-vis historical realities in Transylvania. The gesture should be seen rather as a premeditated one.” Read more about the Székely land  here.

The Romani Journal citing realitatea.net says that US Ambassador Hans Klemm said that the only flags that matter to him are the US’s and Romania’s.  He reportedly added that the photo was taken within a context when he only wanted to be polite.

Well, now… imagine if we have the Russian, Chinese, German or Indian Ambassador in Washington show up in Texas holding the flag of Texit or Texas Secede! advocates then telling the press he/she was just being polite.

We’ll have back to back hearings in Congress, our elected folks would refused to go home to campaign during the election season. Right.

The Romania Journal also notes the FB post: Antal Arpad wrote on Facebook: “I offered the US Ambassador as gift the flag of the Szekler community, which has become the symbol of authorities’ disrespect towards the Szekler community. I mention that this flag was first used in 1599, when the Szeklers fought alongside Mihai Viteazul (Michael the Brave – ruler of Wallachia 1593-1601, the first ruler to unite the three historical provinces of Romania – our note).”

Below is the embassy’s response to Romanian media roiled by the photograph.  Via The Romania Journal as it is not available on the embassy page:

In a release as reply to the information in the media, the US Embassy says that Ambassador Hans Klemm is the US Ambassador for entire Romania. He is periodically travelling through the country, he meets various groups from all the areas of Romanian society. As ally and strategic partner of Romania, the United States support and greet the democracy in Romania and Romania’s efforts to consolidate the democratic institutions with the full and balanced participation of all segments of society, the embassy said.

The 2015 Human Right Report says that the ethnic Hungarian population is approximately 1.2 million.  Also the following:

Ethnic Hungarians also complained of obstructions and bans against the use of the regional Szekler flag and symbols. In March local authorities in Targu Mures rejected the National Szekler Council’s request to hold a march to celebrate the Szeklers’ Freedom Day on March 10 and commemorate five Szekler martyrs.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related to their ability to use the Hungarian language. In August the political umbrella group Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania released a report on the government’s implementation of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The report asserted that ethnic Hungarians were not permitted to use Hungarian in courts or administrative matters and that many municipalities did not use bilingual signs. The report claimed that courts obstructed the financing of Hungarian-language newspapers by local authorities and that the government continued to refuse to establish a public Hungarian-language university. The report also noted there were insufficient Hungarian-language cultural institutions and translations of Hungarian-language literature in the country.

In the region of Moldavia, the Roman Catholic, Hungarian-speaking Csango minority continued to operate government-funded Hungarian language classes. In some other localities, authorities denied requests for Hungarian language classes.

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US Embassy Budapest Issues Alert on Railway Station, Silent on Refugee/Migration Crisis on Doorstep

Posted: 6:37 pm EDT
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The UNCHR in Budapest, Hungary writes that — an angry confrontation between police and refugees on a blocked train just outside Budapest; a makeshift camp of stranded Syrians, Afghans and others at the capital’s main railway station; more than 2,000 refugees crossing into the country from Serbia each day the contours of Europe’s refugee and migration crisis are growing and shifting.  It describes the concourse in front of the main Keleti train station in Budapest as resembling a sad, makeshift campsite. “More than 2,000 people slept there overnight, a few in small tents, some with blankets and air mattresses, many on the cement floor covered in nothing but their clothes.”
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On September 3, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary issued an alert concerning the migrants at the the Keleti Railway Station. This is about the only statement we could locate concerning the refugee crisis in its host country:

The U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens in Hungary to be alert when traveling through the Keleti Railway Station (Palyaudvar).  Increasing numbers of migrants in and around the station have resulted in large crowds in public spaces.  Although these crowds have occasionally confronted police, demonstrations have been peaceful, and the presence of migrants has not led to a rise in crime, violent or otherwise.  However, even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence.  You should avoid areas of demonstrations, and exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Rail passengers should be prepared to show their passports to be admitted to the trains and platforms.  Rail traffic to and from the station has been subject to significant delays.  In some cases, departures have been cancelled.

On the same day when Hungary was accused of inhumane treatment of refugees, Embassy Budapest tweeted this:

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A couple of weeks earlier, the U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Colleen Bell toured Hungary’s majestic caves:

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An FB commenter writes to Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Bell, by not speaking against Hungary’s regressive and inhuman actions on refugees you are proving all the charges that you are an ineffective diplomat and mere window dressing. Perhaps you should join Donald Trump’s campaign. Hungary needs to become the great country she could be, not revert to her infamous policies of the 20th Century.

Two days ago, this photo shocked the world:

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On September 3, the State Department spox tweeted this:

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The latest from Embassy Budapest today is learning more about programs that support the conservation of culture, urging,  “Follow !”

On Facebook, there is a ‪#‎USAfridayQUIZ‬.

That’s all.

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Photo of the Day: Amb. Bell With Team USA at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match

Posted: 00:54 EST
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Via US Embassy Budapest:

Ambassador Colleen Bell at the U.S.-Hungary Water Polo Match. See related story over at the USA Water Polo website.

US Embassy Hungary| Amb Bell and US team 2015

Dr. Dénes Kemény of the Hungarian Water Polo Federation (http://ow.ly/J3r6T), invited Ambassador Colleen Bell to be his guest during last night’s match between the U.S. and Hungary at the 2015 Volvo Cup. The American team (http://ow.ly/J3rbu) lost to their Hungarian hosts, but they played a great game according to the US Embassy! Photo by US Embassy Budapest/FB

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US Embassy Hungary: DCM M. André Goodfriend to Depart Post After Only 18 Months

 Posted: 13:10 EST
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M. André Goodfriend has served as Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest since August 2013 . Pending the confirmation of the new ambassador, he was Embassy Budapest’s chargé d’affaires. Last month, he tweeted this:

 

 

On February 13, less than a month after Ambassador Bell’s arrival in Budapest, Mr. Goodfriend tweeted this:

 

Politics.hu notes that  the embassy’s twitter feed had not acknowledged Goodfriend’s departure. Neither the embassy website nor its Facebook page carried any announcement about his departure prompting an FB user to write:

No post about Mr. Goodfriend leaving Budapest? Why not? He has become a sort of iconic figure representing the tolerant and smart politics, which has been missing in and around Hungarian leadership. I think that it is a mistake to let him go. His political wisdom, experience and insight will be missed, I am sure.

Mr. Goodfriend is a career diplomat, and the typical length of assignments, particularly in European posts like Budapest is three years.  Budapest is a 5% COLA post, with zero hardship and zero danger pay.   It appears that Mr. Goodfriend is leaving post 18 months short of a full tour. We’ve asked the U.S. Embassy Budapest via Twitter and email the reason for this early departure and we were told by Embassy Spokesperson Elizabeth Webster on February 14 that they normally do not issue press releases when personnel depart post; however, they made  the following statement available to the media upon request:

“DCM Andre Goodfriend is departing his posting in Hungary to return to the United States for family reasons.  Mr. Goodfriend served nearly 18 months as chargé d’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Budapest during a time of significant developments in Hungary and in our bilateral relations.  Enjoying the full support of senior leadership in Washington, he did an excellent job of promoting and explaining U.S. policy in public and in private.  We ask for the media to respect the privacy of the Goodfriend family.” 

 

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To Hungary, to Hungary in January — Ambassador Bell sworn-in

— Domani Spero
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We don’t know who administered the oath of office, it looks like that official was cut off from the photo below except for his arm. According to the official schedule, the swearing-in ceremony at the Department of State was attended by Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs Charles Rivkin but it was otherwise closed to the press.

High Drama in Hungary Awaits New American Ambassador

— Domani Spero
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This past October, the U.S. Embassy in Hungary released the following statement:

The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any NAV investigations into US businesses or institutions in Hungary and no U.S. actions have been taken as the result of any such investigations.

The U.S. takes corruption seriously.  The U.S. Department of Justice has established an anti-kleptocracy unit to expand capacity to pursue cases in which ill-gotten wealth overseas is found to have a U.S. connection.

Certain Hungarian individuals have been found ineligible to enter the United States as the result of credible information that those individuals are either engaging in or benefiting from corruption.  This was a decision by the Department of State under the authority of Presidential Proclamation Number 7750 and its Anti-Kleptocracy Provision of January 12, 2004.  Criminal proceedings are up to the host nation to pursue.  U.S. privacy laws prohibit us from disclosing the names of the individuals involved.

No one is above the law.  The United States shares Hungary’s view of “zero tolerance” of corruption.  Addressing corruption requires a healthy system of checks, balances and transparency.  The U.S. Government action related to Hungarian individuals is not a Hungary-specific measure, but part of an intensified U.S. focus on combating corruption, a fundamental obstacle to good governance, transparency and democratic values.

The Budapest Beacon reported that ten Hungarian officials and associates have been banned for travel to the United States including individuals close to Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Yup, the same one Senator McCain called   a “neo-fascist dictator.  And the reason Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest was summoned to Hungary’s Foreign Ministry.

Last month, Hungary Today citing reports from Portfolio.hu has reported, said that the head of National Tax and Customs Administration of Hungary (NAV), Ildikó Vida had revealed that she and some of her colleagues are among those state officials that were banned by Washington from travelling to the United States.

 

 

Orbán also criticized Goodfriend for accusing a government official of corruption “while hiding behind diplomatic immunity”. Orbán called on Goodfriend to “be a man and take responsibility for his accusations” by agreeing to allow himself to be sued in a Hungarian court for defamation.

“In Hungary, if someone is proven to have been involved in corruption, we don’t replace that person but lock them up,” said the prime minister, neglecting to mention the fact that a similar fate awaits people convicted of defaming public officials.

Later in the day the head of the Fidesz caucus, Antal Rogán, an authority on corruption, told the Hungarian News Service that Goodfriend could prove to a Hungarian court of law if Vida was guilty of corruption, “but that this would first involve the US agreeing to lift his diplomatic immunity”.

Right and she did not want to be fired. As can be expected, the tax office (NAV) chief Ildikó Vida filed a defamation lawsuit against US embassy chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend.  According to Hungary Today, the complaint was filed with the prosecutor’s investigations office on the ground of “public defamation causing serious damage,” a NAV lawyer said.

 

 

The Financial Review notes that growing anti-government protests in the country may become another battleground between Europe and Russia.  Several protests in the last few months over corruption, internet tax plan, private pensions, etcetera.  The Review suggests that these protests against an  increasingly pro-Russian leadership, raised questions about whether the former communist nation could become the next Ukraine.

Amidst this, the U.S. Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to Hungary, and The Colbert Report noticed.

 

Mr. Colbert notes that “The Bold And The Beautiful is perfect training to be an ambassador. Hungary is a region rife with drama and constant threat of violence — exactly the situation the Forrester family routinely handles from their palatial estate while simultaneously running their fashion empire.”

As if that’s not enough, there are also some suggestions floating around the net on how Viktor Orbán can best use the Colleen Bell fiasco to screw the US and its liberal allies in Hungary. It includes wining and dining, and those are the nicer parts.

Meanwhile, @GoodfriendMA is going about his business, checking out the Christmas markets in Budapest and awaiting the arrival of his new boss.

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US Embassy Hungary: A well managed, productive mission awaits Ambassador Colleen Bell

— Domani Spero
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So apparently, Senator John McCain led a CODEL to the Munich Security Conference a couple weeks back last February and made a four-hour side trip to Budapest. Bloomberg View’s Jeffrey Goldberg writes that, he suspect, though he could not prove it, that the good senator from Arizona decided to meet with two dozen Hungarian journalists in Budapest mainly so that the delegation would be asked questions about a woman named Colleen Bell.

Who is Colleen Bell? Bell is a soap opera producer — “The Bold and the Beautiful” is her masterwork — who was nominated by Barack Obama’s administration to serve as U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Bell, one of Obama’s larger fundraising “bundlers,” bought this nomination with more than $500,000 of mostly other people’s money.
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In Budapest, they’re highly interested in her. When a reporter, early in the press conference, asked McCain about Bell, a devilish smile played across his face.

“We’re very fortunate,” he said, “to have with us today the chairman of the committee that holds the hearings that these nominees come before, and that is Senator Murphy, and he is very knowledgeable about these issues.”

Three things then happened. First, most everyone at the press conference laughed. Second, one of the people who didn’t laugh, the aforementioned Senator Chris Murphy, a freshman Democrat from Connecticut, approached the podium as if it were covered in rat poison. Third, McCain winked — not at all subtly — at the three American journalists sitting in the front row.

This is a pretty hilarious piece, although definitely not/not hilarious if you are Colleen Bell. Just imagine being in her shoes — you have yet to arrived at your host country and a couple dozen journalists who presumably will cover your tenure in Budapest, were already laughing at your expense.

Screen Shot 2014-12-03

Reax via Twitter:

NYT’s Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital says:

FP’s David Rothkopf thought this is bad news but ….

World News Tonight ponders the how:

Fox News talks credentials:

WaPo’s Daniel W. Drezner reacts to WH spox spin about this nominee. Really a bad sign when the spox pulls out the “I wasn’t part of this decision process” excuse.  The dudester is … who the heck expects the spokesman, even of the White House to be involved in the deliberation of ambassadorships?

Oh, John McCain. The former straight talker, and former presidential contender, is apparently not happy about this nominee according to ABC News. Although, we’re not sure if the senator has been happy about anything since 2008.

“We’re about to vote on a totally unqualified individual to be ambassador to a nation which is very important to our national security interests,” he said.

“I am not against political appointees … but here we are, a nation that’s on the verge of seceded its sovereignty to a neo-fascist dictator getting in bed with Vladimir Putin and we’re gonna send the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ as our ambassador,” McCain said. (via)

 

Isn’t our capital city just the most marvelously enchanting reality show ever?

But there’s more.

Today, Reuters is reporting that Hungary’s Foreign Ministry summoned Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend, our acting ambassador at the U.S. Embassy in Budapest over comments made by Senator McCain on Tuesday, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orban a “neo-fascist dictator.”

This, we suspect, will not/not be a boring tour. The next time Senator McCain rants about Hungary, the MFA will be calling in the new ambassador. It would certainly help smooth relations if she is likable instead of grouchy.

In any case, Ambassador-designate Colleen Bell, the producer of ‘The Bold and the Beautiful’ will officially be our top American representative in Hungary once that country accepts her credentials. You may not like that, but the Senate confirmed her nomination and she’s one of ours now.  She will not only be the chief of mission at our embassy in Hungary, she will also be responsible for foreign service and other agency personnel and their family members at post. Embassy Budapest employs 95 Americans and 232 locally employed (LE) staff members, servicing five agencies. The total mission funding for FY 2013 was $17.5 million, which includes Department of State (Department) funding of $11.5 million and excludes U.S. direct-hire salaries. The total bilateral assistance for FY 2013 was $1.8 million.

We hope that the ambassador-designate spent the last year while waiting for confirmation to learn more about her host country. She’ll need it.  She will be America’s face in a country where the elected government doesn’t have a lot of fondness for America.  She did graduate with honors from Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in political economy, a dual major in political science and economics, so she’s not stupid, despite a near disastrous confirmation hearing. The good news is — she’ll assume charge of a mission that has been “A well managed and productive, and led by a talented chargé d’affaires(CDA),” who arrived in August 2013. (The Hungarian right is apparently hoping that CDA Goodfriend would be recalled or replaced).  According to the OIG inspectors, Chargé d’Affaires André Goodfriend effectively leads a collegial and active country team and is preparing carefully for the arrival of a new ambassador.

So — let’s wish the new ambassador well in her new assignment and hope that she be a good steward of Mission Budapest.

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Confirmations: House Packing Officially On For Noah Mamet (Argentina), and Colleen Bell (Hungary)

— Domani Spero
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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.

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.

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

Palacio Bosch via U.S. Embassy Buenos Aires

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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Cloture Invoked, Senate to Vote on Confirmation of Mamet (Argentina) and Bell (Hungary) Nominations on 12/2

— Domani Spero
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On Monday, December 1, 2014, the Senate voted on cloture on the Mamet and Bell ambassadorial nominations. The Senate previously stated that if cloture is invoked on either of the nominations, on Tuesday, December 2, 2014, at 10:30am, all post cloture time will be expired, and the Senate will proceed to vote on confirmation of the nominations.

  • 5:33pm The Senate began a 15 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #892, Noah, Mamet, of California, to be Ambassador to Argentina;Invoked: 50-36
  • 6:05pm The Senate began a 10 minute roll call vote on the motion to invoke cloture on Executive Calendar #631, Colleen Bradley Bell, of Californina, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to Hungary; Invoked: 50-36

According to the CRS, under a November 21, 2013, precedent established by the Senate, invoking cloture on presidential nominations to positions other than the Supreme Court of the United States requires a vote of a majority of Senators present and voting, or 51 votes if all 100 Senators vote.

Click here (pdf) if you want to learn more about this Senate procedure.

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