George J Tsunis says he won’t be coming to Oslo to be the new US ambassador to Norway after all. Tsunis, the American businessman and campaign contributor tapped by US President Barack Obama to represent him in Norway, told a New York newspaper late Friday that Obama’s long-stalled nomination of him “is over.”
Tsunis told Newsday, the main newspaper serving Tsunis’ home base of Long Island, that his nomination wouldn’t receive the necessary vote of confirmation in the US Senate. He said Senate Democrats who support Obama had tried to wrap several unconfirmed ambassador nominees into a package for approval, but his nomination was left out.
Tsunis’ nomination sparked unprecedented opposition both in the US and in Norway, after he performed badly during his senate confirmation hearing last winter. He had no trouble reading a prepared statement about US relations with Noway and his goals for the envoy post in Oslo, which historically has been offered as a political payback of sorts from US presidents to their biggest campaign contributors. Under questioning led by Republican Senator John McCain, though, Tsunis showed a startling lack of knowledge about Norway and offended one of the political parties that recently had won government power in Norway.
That led to strong opposition to Tsunis’ nomination, also from organizations and individuals who long have blasted the US’ political patronage system of sending presidential supporters and non-career diplomats to “friendly” countries like Norway and several other countries in Europe and around the world. Most vocal, however was an active group of Norwegian-Americans in the US who lobbied hard to get Tsunis’ nomination blocked in Congress. When the two Democratic senators from the heavily Norwegian-American state of Minnesota said they would vote against Tsunis’ nomination, speculation soared that it wouldn’t succeed.
It then stalled, with no action taken on Obama’s nomination before the summer recess or before the mid-term election campaign in the US that left Obama facing a hostile US Congress dominated by Republicans. The mayor of Oslo even went so far as to say publicly that he would prefer someone other than Obama’s nominee in Oslo, and speculation rose in Norway that Tsunis’ nomination was indeed doomed. On Friday night, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) also reported that it was unlikely to receive the needed Senate approval.
Tsunis hung on, until Friday
Tsunis never withdrew himself and mostly refused to respond to media questions, until finally speaking to Newsday Friday night (external link). Newsday also reported that a Senate aide confirmed Tsunis’ nomination was “out” and Tsunis himself said he would decline to be nominated again when Congress reconvenes in January.
“I don’t think anybody would think it’s a good idea,” Tsunis told Newsday. “Norway has been without an ambassador for two years and the overarching thing should be: Let’s get them a first-rate ambassador.”
With Obama now left to find a new ambassador candidate for Norway, Tsunis’ opponents were jubilant. “We Did It!” was the title of an email sent out Saturday by Minnesota-based lawyer T Michael Davis, who had spearheaded the drive against Tsunis that included Norwegian-Americans like historian Odd Lovoll, who’s written many books about Norwegian immigration to the US.
“The battle has gone on now for 11 months and we’ve finally won,” Davis wrote. “Had Tsunis been arguably qualified, and avoided the diplomatic incidents he caused and the disrespect he ended up showing to the people and government of Norway, I and many others here would have never raised an objection or taken up efforts to see the nomination defeated.”
Davis claimed that Tsunis’ “bungling” of his nomination hearing because of “lack of knowledge and experience … made it so clear for so many of us that we could not simply sit by and watch our friends and relatives in Norway and the Norwegian-American relationship be taken down in this way. We knew we all deserved better.”
There was no immediate response to the failure of Tsunis’ nomination from Norway’s foreign ministry. Government officials had earlier stated they would welcome whoever Obama sent to fill the post of US ambassador in Oslo, which has been vacant since Obama’s former campaign finance director in 2008, Boston lawyer Barry White, was called home in 2012.