WASHINGTON -- A Senate panel approved the nomination of Long Island businessman George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway Tuesday, but only after Sen. John McCain complained he has become a "mockery" in Norway and might "embarrass the United States of America."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared Tsunis, 46, of Cold Spring Harbor, in a 12-6 recorded vote as it signed off on most other nominees by voice vote.
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McCain (R-Ariz.), who demanded the recorded vote, said Tsunis' errors in talking about Norway in his hearing Jan. 16 have gone "viral" in that country and was the subject of a late-night comedy show skit here.
In the hearing, Tsunis "talks about the president of the country he is going to serve in and there is no president -- it's a constitutional monarchy -- and he talks about a faction within the government as condemned by the government," McCain said.
"The question is whether . . . [Tsunis] will embarrass the United States of America while serving as our representative," McCain said. Describing Norway as "a very important NATO partner," he said Tsunis "has become a mockery within the country" in which he would be posted.
Tsunis declined to comment.
Democrats defended Tsunis. They joined with a handful of Republicans to send his nomination to the full Senate for a final vote, which is not yet scheduled.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-N.J.) said in a meeting before last month's hearing, Tsunis "displayed what I thought was a fairly impressive and wide-ranging knowledge" of Norway.
Murphy added Tsunis, director of Chartwell Hotels, had experience for the post as a member of Brookings Institution's Foreign Policy Leadership Committee and of Business Executives for National Security.
But Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said, "I've been a little disappointed about the number of ambassadorships that have been basically handed to -- let's talk about the gorilla in the room here -- people who have donated a lot of money to a particular administration."
Tsunis is a strong case in point, said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, which seeks to limit money in politics.
Until 2009, Tsunis had been a lifelong Republican -- he gave McCain's presidential campaign $50,000 in 2008. But in 2009, Tsunis switched parties and in 2012 raised $988,550 for President Barack Obama.
Nominees should visit countries they'll serve, said Johnson, adding. "The problem is this is a rushed process. They are not being properly prepared."