Controversy over Norwegian Ambassador nominee

Norwegian ambassador nominee George Tsunis. Screenshot from US Senate hearing.

U.S. President Obama experiences bipartisan backlash after his nomination of Hotel C.E.O. and bundler, George Tsunis, as Norway’s next ambassador. 

Appointing ambassadorships to prime fund-raisers is a longstanding tradition in American politics.

However, the Obama administration is under public scrutiny, writes the New York Times, due to its recent appointments to office—including Jane D. Hartley, an economic consulting firm's chief executive officer appointed for the French ambassadorship, and lawyer Kevin O'Malley, chosen as ambassador to Ireland.


Controversial figure

O'Malley is to replace this vacant position, after Dan Rooney, chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, resigned from the position in December 2012. Although O'Malley is second-generation Irish American, he is not a well-known figure in the Irish-American community, causing some dissonance on the administration’s motivations and on the level of consideration in the ambassador selection process.

The most controversial figure in this process is CEO of Chartwell Hotels, George Tsunis, appointed last year by President Obama as ambassador to Norway.

Tsunis donated approximately $843,000 to Obama's 2012 re-election, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and has demonstrated little knowledge of Norway's political system, economy, and culture. Several politicians have objected to Tsunis' nomination, believing he is not right for the position. 


Offended Norwegians

During a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Tsunis offended many Norwegians by lacking proper comprehension of Norwegian politics. Referring to the Norwegian prime minister as "president" as well as calling the prominent Progress Party “fringe elements that have a microphone that spew their hatred," fueled the fire of his opposition.

Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota, who represents America's largest Norwegian-American community, was of the first to oppose the Tsunis' nomination, followed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and South Dakota Senator Tim Johnson.

Opposing the nomination

According to Newsday, Senator Johnson spoke candidly about his doubts, stating, "I do not believe Mr. Tsunis is the right person for the job and will oppose his nomination,” because his "hearing did not give me confidence in his knowledge of Norway or his ability to be an effective ambassador.”

The opposing politicians have little faith in Tsunis’ competence for the ambassadorship and wish to avoid further offense to Norwegians. Tsunis has 53 of the necessary 51 Senate votes for confirmation. Senator John McCain, who moderated his Foreign Relations Committee hearing, has declared that he will block the nomination on the Senate floor. United States citizens are also exercising their power to remove Tsunis’ nomination. There are currently 501 supporters of the petition. Details can be found at