Feb 6, 2022 - World

Biden pegs Pelosi ally for Italy ambassador

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is seen during a news conference.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden is considering Stephen Robert, a former Wall Street executive with close ties to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to become U.S. ambassador to Italy, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The president has struggled with and waited to fill the post — despite the desirability of living in Rome. The ambassadorial residence, Villa Taverna, boasts a pool, private gardens and a three-story wine cellar, nestled in the catacombs below.

  • Democratic donors and diplomats had speculated the president was keeping the position open for Pelosi, if the Italian American decided not to run for re-election.
  • Her recent public announcement that she plans to run for an 18th full term this fall — and, now, the potential nomination of her ally — douses that thinking.

The intrigue: The speaker has pressed the White House to nominate Robert and signaled he's a priority for her.

  • A White House official said a final decision isn’t close to being made.

Between the lines: Robert, 80, was chairman and CEO of Oppenheimer & Co., a New York investment firm.

  • He also served as chancellor of Brown University from 1998-2007.
  • He's married to Pilar Crespi Robert, who's worked in the Italian fashion industry. She's the daughter of the late Count Rodolfo Crespi, an Italian Brazilian public relations specialist and journalist.
  • Together, they run the Source of Hope Organization, a charity focused on the developing world.

The big picture: More than a year into his presidency, Biden has yet to nominate ambassadors to some important countries.

  • Beyond Italy, they include the Republic of Korea — South Korea.

While some of his nominees were held up in the Senate, the president has been slow to announce his picks.

  • Many ambassadors are only arriving in their posts after the Senate confirmed more than 30 of them before the Christmas congressional recess.
  • Biden — a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — has sought to balance political and professional aspirations.
  • He's aimed to pair his nominations of donors and other political nominees with appointments for career civil servants.
  • In the end, the president will likely draw from the professional diplomatic ranks for about 70% of his foreign envoys.

Of note: Robert has given over $500,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Pelosi's leadership PAC, according to FEC reports.

  • He doesn't appear to be a major Biden donor.
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