Friends of Norway reject Tsunis

Two co-chairs of the US congressional Friends of Norway caucus became the latest politicians to oppose businessman George Tsunis’ nomination as the ambassador to Norway just before the weekend. Representatives Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen from Minnesota, which has the US’ largest Norwegian-American population, called on President Barack Obama to withdraw Tsunis’ nomination.

The US congressional Friends of Norway caucus meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende during his Washington DC visit in April. Minnesota Representatives Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen, two of the caucus' four co-chairs, were the latest to oppose the nomination of businessman George Tsunis to the Norwegian ambassadorial role. PHOTO: Norway.org

The US congressional Friends of Norway caucus in a meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende during his Washington DC visit in April. Minnesota Representatives Betty McCollum and Erik Paulsen, two of the caucus’ four co-chairs, last week became the latest politicians to oppose businessman George Tsunis’ nomination to the Norwegian ambassadorial role. PHOTO: Norway.org

“In Minnesota we have a vibrant Norwegian-American population with a rich appreciation for the culture and heritage of Norway,” McCollum told Minneapolis newspaper Star Tribune. “We expect the next US ambassador to possess both expertise and appreciation for Norway and its people. Unfortunately, the current nominee falls far short of this standard. I urge President Obama to withdraw his nomination immediately and instead find a new nominee who will make Norwegian-Americans proud.”

Democrat McCollum and Republican Paulsen’s refusal to support the gaffe-prone Tsunis followed vows from Minnesota senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar to block his appointment if confirmation of his nomination as ambassador comes to a vote in the Senate, according to standard procedure.

Tsunis’ US Senate confirmation hearing in January was a train wreck, drawing angry responses from many of those he offended in the US and Norway. Tsunis called Norway’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) a hatred-spewing fringe element that average Norwegians were quick to denounce, not realizing that the party had recently been elected to government. He also offended others with his lack of knowledge of Norway’s political system, referring to the Norwegian president (Norway is a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister) and admitting he’d never been to the country.

Tsunis, a key financial backer of Obama’s 2012 election campaign, was nominated for the position last autumn. “While ambassadorships are often tied to political support for the President, the answers provided by nominee George Tsunis clearly demonstrate that he is unqualified for this position and may damage an important international bond if confirmed,” said Paulsen.

He and McCollum cannot vote against Tsunis’ nomination, because ambassadors are confirmed or rejected in the Senate. Paulsen could thus only urge Obama to drop the nomination before it gets that far. “The President would serve the Norwegian-American community well by withdrawing Tsunis’s name and nominating somebody that will help our relationship (with Norway) continue to grow and thrive.”

The Friends of Norway caucus was established in 1999 to strengthen relationships between the US and Norway and improve communication on bilateral and global issues. The caucus meets when Norwegian politicians visit the States or when issues particularly applicable to Norwegian-Americans arise. There are an estimated 850,000 people of Norwegian descent in Minnesota, and more than 5 million throughout the US.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate