Norwegians angry over U.S. envoy nominee

  • Article by: COREY MITCHELL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2014 - 9:12 PM

Opposition to George Tsunis as U.S. ambassador grows in Congress, too.

– Clips from the Senate confirmation hearing for President Obama’s pick as ambassador to Norway remain in heavy rotation on Norwegian television.

But the cringe-worthy footage is more blooper reel than coronation.

Five months after businessman George Tsunis stumbled and flubbed his way through the hearing, including testifying that he’d never been to the Scandinavian country, Norwegians in Minnesota and the old country are still flabbergasted.

“He’s a laughingstock,” said Minneapolis businessman Ivar Sorensen, who’s in Norway visiting family.

“People I run into shake their head and say, ‘Where’d they come up with this one?’ ”

Obama nominated Tsunis, a lawyer, hotel magnate and major campaign fundraiser, for the diplomatic post nine months ago. The New York resident has raised more than $1 million in campaign cash for the president.

But Tsunis’ lack of knowledge about Norway and his public missteps soon turned many against his appointment — including Minnesota’s entire congressional delegation.

During his appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tsunis referred to Norway’s prime minister as a “president,” could not identity potential trade opportunities between Norway and the U.S. and described the Progress Party, part of the country’s ruling coalition, as extremist “fringe element” that spews hatred.

One member of the Norwegian parliament was so offended by Tsunis’ testimony that he demanded an apology from Obama.

“[Tsunis’] incompetence was fully on display in his confirmation hearing, and his appointment would be a slap in the face to the Norwegian people who have consistently sent outstanding representation … to grow the relationship between Norway and the United States,” U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen said.

Paulsen, a Republican, and Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, teamed up to write a bipartisan letter to Obama, urging him to withdraw Tsunis’ nomination. With more than 850,000 Minnesotans claiming Norwegian ancestry, the state is home to the largest Norwegian-American population in the United States.

Senate Democrats, led by Minnesota Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, could sink Tsunis’ nomination, as more members of the president’s own party vow to vote against the stalled nomination.

Aides for Klobuchar and Franken said Obama is aware of their opposition to Tsunis, but pressing the president for federal aid for flood-ravaged Minnesota communities is a more urgent concern.

Unless Republicans rally behind him, Tsunis could already be short of the 51 votes needed for confirmation. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota also plan to vote against him. Among Republicans, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven also opposes Tsunis, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona has vowed to block the vote if it comes to the Senate floor.

“We should not do anything that might unnecessarily damage our strong relationship with Norway, a relationship that I am committed to sustaining and strengthening in the years to come,” Franken wrote to Secretary of State John Kerrry this month.

Tsunis declined to comment when reached by phone.

Cash trumps competence?

Tsunis’ poor performance prompted an international outcry and became a rallying point for criticism of the longtime presidential practice of rewarding big campaign donors with ambassador appointments. The Senate committee still approved Tsunis’ nomination 12-6.

  • related content

  • What do you know about Norway?

    Wednesday June 25, 2014

    Take this true-or-false quiz about Norway. (It’ll help you navigate Minnesota, or at least understand an episode of “A...

  • What you should know about Norway

    Wednesday June 25, 2014

    Knowledge of the Norse isn’t all that hard to come by in Minnesota. Here are five things that could get...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters