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Tracking Minnesota’s political scene and keeping you up-to-date on those elected to serve you

Sweden, Norway ambassadors finally confirmed by U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate confirmed ambassadors to Norway and Sweden early Friday -- bringing to close a drawn out poltiical fight on the Senate floor between Sen. Amy Klobuchar and GOP presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz.

Minnesotan Sam Heins, a lawyer and human rights advocate, is now the ambassador of Norway. The country has gone 869 days without an ambassador. For the Sweden post, the Senate confirmed Azita Raji, an Iranian born Wall Street executive living in California. 

Cruz had placed a hold on the two nominations because he opposed President Obama's nuclear deal. His office did not immediately respond for comment on Friday about why he lifted his hold, which allowed the two nominees to be confirmed by unanimous consent.

Klobuchar and Sen. Al Franken have called out the hold as an unfair poltiical maneuver that was hurting critical Scandinavian allies.

"I went to the floor every day for six days in a row to ask for consent or give a speech about it," Klobuchar said. "I am really pleased ... We once again have a Minnesotan in the embassy in Norway. History has been repeated."

Outside of Norway, Minnesota is home to the largest Norwegian population in the world. 

Sen. Hann: 'Petty' politics behind decision to change parking for Senate GOP

Senate Republicans and their staff will be locked out of a Capitol parking ramp starting Saturday, the latest flash point between the GOP caucus and Senate Democrats who have traded jabs over the new Minnesota Senate Building. 

A GOP Senate spokesman confirmed that the decision was communicated to them this week and said it came at the direction of Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. 

Senate Republicans have sparred with their DFL counterparts over the new Senate Building, a $90-million building that opened last month. They have chosen to spurn the new building, for now staying put in their current State Office Building space, where some also park in an access-controlled ramp.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, called it retribution by Bakk for their decision to stay put in their current offices. Hann said his caucus wanted to avoid a disruptive and costly move from their current offices to the new building for a short legislative session. They plan to move after the election, Hann said.

"My sense is that this was a political step because the majority is mad at us that we elected not to move," Hann said. "This is a way to make our lives more difficult."

Hann said his caucus members and staff were informed of new parking guidelines this week. Senators are being directed, he said, to park in the Minnesota Senate Building where parking costs about $150 per month compared with $75 currently. Senators will not be allowed to park on surface lots, he said, noting that many members of his caucus currently do so at about $30 per monthly.

Hann said staffers will be most affected. "What is of concern is when they attack the public employees," he said. "In this case, trying to make the lives of our staff more inconvenient. It's so petty."

Republicans have also decried the use of Senate funds to defray parking costs for staff at the Minnesota Senate Building, arguing that DFLers had originally promised the ramp would be paid for entirely through user fees.

Senate Democrats have contended the ramp will still be user-financed and said that Republicans' decision to stay in their current office space will create logistical problems.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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