Oct 8, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Dem donor Tsunis is Biden's pick for Greece

George Tsunis
Photo: Senate.gov

President Biden plans to nominate hotel executive and major Democratic donor George Tsunis as his envoy to Greece, according to people familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Senate Foreign Relations Chair Robert Menendez (D-N.J) had pushed Biden to pick Tsunis, and now Tsunis has a second chance to prove he's worthy of serving as an ambassador after his failed nomination under President Obama.

  • Tsunis was Obama's choice for Norway in 2012, but he stumbled in his confirmation hearing. Republican Sen. John McCain — and the entire country of Norway — pounced, and Tsunis' nomination languished.
  • The nomination, expected this afternoon, will come before the Greek foreign minister arrives in Washington to sign a renewed Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement on Oct. 14 that will bolster the U.S. Navy's presence in Souda Bay on the coast of Crete.

Between the lines: Tsunis was born in Queens, but Greek was his first language and he didn't learn English until he went to kindergarten.

  • Tsunis is deeply involved in a variety of Greek causes in the U.S. and served as the vice chair of the Hellenic American Leadership Council.
  • If confirmed by the Senate, Tsunis would replace Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt, a career foreign service officer who also served as ambassador to Ukraine.

The big picture: Biden, who promised to rebuild the state department and reinvigorate diplomacy, is naming ambassadors at a much slower rate than his predecessors.

  • Republicans in the Senate are also slowing the confirmation process with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) vowing to erect procedural roadblocks on all nominees in an attempt to extract policy and personnel concessions from Biden.

Go deeper: In announcing his ambassadorial picks, Biden has been pairing political ambassadors with professional diplomats and will likely make non-career nominations for about 30% of the roughly 190 total ambassadorships, leaving 70% for foreign service officers.

  • That 70:30 ratio would be in line with the traditional breakdown, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
  • President Trump nominated political ambassadors for about 44% of his appointments.
  • For non-career ambassadors, Biden is picking more politicians, like LA Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) for India and former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) for Turkey, than pure political donors.
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