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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

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

The mental health deal boom

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The positive social media response to Simone Biles withdrawing from Olympic competition highlights how the artificial line between health care and mental health care is finally beginning to dissolve. And startup investors have taken notice.

By the numbers: Venture capital investments in mental health startups rose 72.6% between Q1 2020 and Q1 2021, per CB Insights.

Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

U.S. economy grew at a 6.5% rate last quarter, missing expectations

Contractors work on a home under construction. (Photo: Micah Green/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The U.S. economy grew at an annualized 6.5% rate last quarter, the government said Thursday — slower than the 8.4% economists expected.

Why it matters: It came as the economy made strides toward further reopening, vaccinations rolled out and government stimulus bolstered spending. But supply crunches held the pace of growth back.

2 hours ago - Sports

U.S. gymnast Suni Lee wins Olympic gold in individual all-around

Suni Lee Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

U.S. gymnast Sunisa "Suni" Lee won Olympic gold on Thursday in the individual all-around event.

The big picture: Simone Biles, who withdrew from the event to focus on her mental health, cheered from the stands with the rest of the women's gymnastics team as they watched Lee and teammate Jade Carey compete. Brazil's Rebeca Andrade won the silver and Russian Angelina Melnikova took the bronze.