President Obama’s A-list campaign fundraisers are turning out to be B-list ambassador nominees.
Several of his nominees in recent weeks have had cringe-worthy moments in their confirmation hearings. And people are starting to take notice
Two nominees, who also happen to be top fundraisers for the president’s campaigns, stumbled in the same hearing last month by botching questions about the countries they were tapped to serve in.
George Tsunis, a hotel magnate, was slammed in the Norwegian media for displaying a “total ignorance of Norway” in his Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in January.
And just this week, Obama’s nominee to Argentina Noah Bryson Mamet, also a top Obama bundler, was caught admitting that he had never been to the country.
Nominating allies and top fundraisers to plum diplomatic posts isn’t a phenomenon Obama invented, but the lack of preparation on the part of his nominees is becoming the source or unflattering headlines.
Here are the most cringe-worthy moments from Obama’s nominees:
1. “Thank you for that save, Senator Johnson.”
What do you do when you don’t have an answer to a question? Well, you keep talking. You can also impress the senators if you mention a lot of numbers: $15 billion, 300 businesses, 60 percent.
Finally, giving up on an attempt to answer a question by Sen. Ron Johnson about trade opportunities with Norway, Tsunis ends his answer this way:
“But there are…uh… there are a lot of things that will begin to — there are a lot of markets that will continue to open up… uh,” Tunis says before taking a gulp of water.
When Johnson promptly went on to another point, Tsunis voiced his gratitude.
“Thank you for that save, Senator Johnson,” Tsunis said.
2. “I stand corrected.”
Generally speaking, a Senate confirmation isn’t the place to learn about the country where you’re hoping to be the U.S.’s top emissary.
Yet that’s exactly what seemed to happen when Sen. John McCain asked Tsunis about Norway’s anti-immigration party, the Progress Party:
Tsunis: Thank you, Senator. It’s a very seminal question. Generally Norway has, and is very proud of, being a very open, transparent, democratic parliamentary government. One of the by- products of being such an open society and placing such a value on free speech is that you get some fringe elements that have a microphone, that spew their hatred. And although I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them, we’re going to continue to work with Norway to make sure –
McCain: The government has denounced them? The coalition government — they’re part of the coalition of the government.
Tsunis: Well, I would say — you know, what? I stand — I stand corrected.
McCain: I doubt seriously if they–
Tsunis: The — I stand corrected and would like to leave my answer at they are — it’s a very, very open society and that most Norwegians — the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don’t feel the same way.
“I have no more questions for this incredibly, highly qualified group of nominees,” closed McCain, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
3. ”I haven’t had the opportunity to be there”
It seems President Obama’s nominee for ambassador to Argentina Noah Bryson Mamet hasn’t been able to squeeze a trip to the country into his busy travel schedule.
The exchange from Thursday’s hearing:
Sen. Marco Rubio: Mr. Mamet, have you been to Argentina?
Mamet: Senator, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to be there. I’ve traveled pretty extensively around the world. But I haven’t yet had a chance.
4. “Obviously, you don’t want to answer my question.”
Being a Hollywood producer doesn’t disqualify someone from being an ambassador, but from the combative nature of his questioning, McCain wasn’t very impressed with the resume of Colleen Bell, who has been nominated to be ambassador to Hungary.
This exchange probably best encapsulates most of McCain’s question and answer session with Bell:
SEN. MCCAIN: So what would you be doing differently from your predecessor, who obviously had very rocky relations with the present government?
MS. BELL: If confirmed, I look forward to working with the broad range of society –
SEN. MCCAIN: My question was, what would you do differently?
MS. BELL: Senator, in terms of what I would do differently from my predecessor, Kounalakis –
SEN. MCCAIN: That’s the question.
MS. BELL: Well, what I would like to do when — if confirmed, I would like to work towards engaging civil society in a deeper — in a deeper –
SEN. MCCAIN: Obviously, you don’t want to answer my question.
5. “I’m no real expert…”
Longtime U.S. Senator Max Baucus was confirmed to serve as ambassador to China this week, but even his confirmation hearing, which was conducted by his colleagues, had its own snafus.
Sen. Ron Johnson: So what do you think would motivate them to initiate the air defense identification zone? How does that further that goal?
Baucus: Senator, I’m no real expert on China, but it’s my strong belief that Chinese people are just as proud as we Americans are proud.