For George Tsunis, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to Norway, the path to Oslo is growing as cold and dark as an Arctic December. The businessman and Obama bundler is drawing opposition from more lawmakers, including Democrats as memories linger of his historically poor performance in his Senate confirmation hearings.
Tsunis helped raise $500,000 during the 2012 campaign, but during a January appearance before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee he revealed his lack of knowledge about the Scandinavian country where he hopes to represent American interests. Tsunis revealed that his only experience with Norway was a childhood visit. Asked about the nation’s system of government, he did not know whether Norway had a president or a prime minister. He also called a prominent party in Norway’s coalition government “a fringe element” and offered almost no suggestions for improving economic opportunities between the two countries.
Tsunis’s performance was panned by Jon Stewart, who also ridiculed the Senate hearings of Obamas ambassador picks for Argentina and Iceland. A Norwegian newspaper slammed the “faltering” Tsunis’s testimony as a “jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder.”
The backlash to Tsunis was especially strong in Minnesota, which is steeped in Norwegian heritage and pride. Shortly after the hearing, a coalition of Norwegian-Americans penned a letter in the Star Tribune saying the Tsunis nomination “cannot stand.”
“Tsunis is irreparably ‘damaged goods,’” the leaders of four different Norwegian groups wrote. “He will not be respected within the Norwegian government, let alone among ordinary Norwegians. If confirmed, he would become little more than expensive window-dressing for however long he would remain in Oslo, leaving him hindered in the roles of diplomacy that truly matter.”
Gopher State Democrats have also soured on Tsunis. Earlier this week, Senator Al Franken joined Senator Amy Klobuchar in saying he would oppose Tsunis’s confirmation vote when it is brought up in the Senate. Franken said Tsunis’s showing before the committee “make it impossible for him to serve effectively” as ambassador.
“Many Minnesotans have expressed concern that Mr. Tsunis’ remarks during the hearing have deeply damaged his credibility with the government of Norway, the people of Norway, and the American people,” the comedian-turned-senator said in a statement. Franken is up for reelection in November.
With Franken and Klobuchar vowing to oppose the nomination, Newsday reports that, at most, Tsunis has 53 votes, barely more than 51 necessary to be confirmed.
Although only the Senate votes on ambassador nominations, Franken and Klobuchar have been joined by one of their peers in the House. On Friday, Democratic representatives Betty McCollum, who represents the Saint Paul area, also came out against Tsunis, according to MinnPost’s Devin Henry:
McCollum on Norway ambassador nom. Tsunis: "I urge President Obama to withdraw his nomination immediately and instead find a new nominee."
— Devin Henry (@dhenry) June 6, 2014
Even though she cannot vote, McCollum is a co-chair of the Friends of Norway Caucus. Fellow Minnesotan Erik Paulsen, a Republican who also co-chairs the caucus, has urged the president to retract the nomination.
The Senate committee has already sent Tsunis’s nomination to the Senate floor, where it is yet to be scheduled for a vote.
— Andrew Johnson is an editorial associate at National Review Online.