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George Tsunis. Photo: Senate.gov

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has asked President Biden to nominate George Tsunis, a New York hotel executive and major Democratic donor, for an ambassadorship, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez has the ability to slow-walk any ambassadorial nominee, giving the White House plenty of reasons to placate him on one specific candidate. Tsunis has a checkered political history, though.

  • During his 2013 confirmation hearing to be ambassador to Norway, Tsunis acknowledged he had not visited the country and mistakenly referred to the country’s head of government as “president,” not “prime minister.”
  • Tsunis’s performance was lambasted by then-Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), lampooned in comedy sketches and ultimately languished in the Senate.
  • Tsunis pulled himself out of contention in 2014.

What they're saying: “I have a longstanding policy on not commenting on anyone who may, or may not, become a nominee,” Menendez told Axios.

  • The White House also declined to comment.

The intrigue: Tsunis is the founder and CEO of Chartwell Hotels. He has long been a Biden donor and even indicated he’d support him in 2016, when the then-vice president ultimately decided not to run.

  • During President Obama's 2012 reelection effort, Tsunis bundled $1.3 million for his campaign.
  • Tsunis also has been a staunch supporter of Menendez and linked his interest in helping Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) 2020 presidential bid — before Biden got in the race — to Menendez.
  • ”This is George helping Sen. Menendez help Cory Booker," Tsunis said on CNBC in March of 2019.

Between the lines: Biden plans to draw mostly on political allies and former aides for his first slate of political ambassadors, and it’s unclear how many pure donors will make the initial cut.

  • Even though he has had a list of potential ambassadors in hand since March, the president has delayed announcing his first political group and likely will do it later in June, after he returns from his first trip abroad.
  • Some advisers had wanted Biden to name ambassadors for NATO and the European Union before meeting with leaders in the UK and then Brussels over the next week.

Be smart: After his disastrous hearing, Tsunis made inroads with some senators, who appreciated his willingness to listen and learn.

Go deeper

28 mins ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tax season nightmare ahead for understaffed IRS

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The IRS will start accepting 2021 tax returns in less than a week, and the filing delays and administrative headaches to come might eclipse last year — which was “one of the worst filing seasons," according to an independent advocacy agency within the IRS.

Why it matters: For taxpayers, especially with complex or paper filings, this means headaches, delayed refunds, and mistakes.

China builds its own movie empire

Expand chart
Data: Gower Street citing Comscore; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

China blocked all four of Disney's Marvel movies from being released in its theaters last year, a grim sign for U.S. film giants being squeezed out of the world's fastest-growing box office.

Why it matters: The Chinese Communist Party is using domestic films as a key conduit for mass messaging aimed at achieving political goals, leaving little room for foreign views.