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POLITICS: PennAve

John McCain: Obama's pick for Norway ambassador will 'be a joke'

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Politics,Congress,Harry Reid,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,John McCain,Foreign Policy,Nuclear Option,Ambassadors

Sen. John McCain pledged to redouble his fight against several of President Obama's ambassador nominees, vowing to gum up their confirmation process as much as he can now that Senate rules no longer allow opponents to filibuster White House political appointments.

The Arizona Republican for months has tried to rally opposition to the nominations, taking particular exception to George Tsunis, a hotelier and Obama bundler the president nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Norway.

“The guy would be a joke,” McCain said during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on Thursday, according to a report in Congressional Quarterly. “Everyone in Norway knows about him.”

In grilling Tsunis earlier this year, McCain pointed out that the nominee had offered a kind assessment of the country's president even though Norway doesn't have one.

Norway is a constitutional monarchy, McCain chided. Tsunis was caught flat-footed again when he said the country's government had denounced the Progress Party. McCain tartly reminded him that the Progress Party is part of the current government.

McCain's latest in a series of derisive comments about Tsunis were prompted by frustration over a Senate rule change made by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., late last year. The so-called “nuclear option” allows nominees to win Senate approval with only a 51-vote majority. Republicans have 45 members.

Previously, a single senator could place a hold on a nominee and threaten to filibuster.

After Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., declared that the ambassador nominations are noncontroversial during the Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, McCain erupted, CQ reported.

“All of them are totally unqualified,” he said. “In fact, an embarrassment. By majority vote, we will probably confirm them. We will probably confirm them, depriving me of my constitutional right of advise and consent. Because now the majority rules.

“I can assure you that I will object and continue to drag it out just as much as I can because you should pay a price,” McCain said, according to the report. “You should pay a price for what you did when you changed the rules without the traditional way of changing them.”

On Wednesday, McCain told a Norwegian television outlet that he and his GOP colleagues will likely “have some spirited discussions” about Tsunis' qualifications on the Senate floor when his nomination comes up for a vote.

In early March, the American Foreign Service Association, the labor union for career diplomats, demonstrated their unhappiness with the caliber of Obama's ambassadorial picks by threatening to file a lawsuit against the State Department for withholding proof that the nominees are qualified.

After a media dust-up over the threat, the State Department handed over the requested “certificates of demonstrated competence” to AFSA.

The White House last week announced that it would start posting those competency documents online in an effort to respond to the criticism.

Tsunis, who raised nearly $850,000 for Obama's re-election campaign, is just one of several ambassador nominees who have faced withering criticism after embarrassing gaffes during their confirmation hearings.

Colleen Bell, the nominee for ambassador to Hungary, is best known for producing the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful.” She stammered when identifying U.S. strategic interests in the Central European country that shares a border with Ukraine.

And Noah Mamet, a longtime Democratic operative and Obama's choice for ambassador to Argentina, said he has traveled extensively in his life - but never to Argentina.

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Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner