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Al Franken opposes George Tsunis' stalled Norway ambassador nomination

George James Tsunis during his Senate confirmation hearing

George James Tsunis during his Senate confirmation hearing to be the Ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway in Washington, D.C. on Jan 16, 2014. Credit: US Senate

WASHINGTON -- The stalled and much-criticized nomination of Long Island businessman George Tsunis to be ambassador to Norway suffered another blow this week when Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said he will vote against it.

Now both senators from Minnesota -- home to the largest Norwegian-American population in the United States -- oppose President Barack Obama's nominee to fill a post that has been vacant since the fall.

Tsunis, 46, of Cold Spring Harbor -- the wealthy chairman of Chartwell Hotels and a major fundraiser for Obama -- was nominated for the diplomatic post nine months ago.

Tsunis needs 51 votes for confirmation. His support from the Democratic caucus has narrowed to at most 53 with the opposition of Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

As with many other Obama appointees, Tsunis' nomination has been held up in partisan fighting over Senate rules. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he will block this nomination on the floor.

Tsunis declined to comment.

Franken, who's up for re-election, cited pressure by Norwegian-Americans concerned that Tsunis' blunders at his confirmation hearing have "damaged his credibility" and make it "impossible" to serve effectively.

In the Feb. 4 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Tsunis referred to Norway's prime minister as a "president" and described the Progress Party -- elected to be part of the ruling coalition -- as "fringe elements" that "spew their hatred" but were "denounced" by most Norwegians.

The committee approved his nomination 12-6.

Klobuchar cited the hearing when she said in February she would vote against Tsunis.

Tsunis also became a lightning rod for criticism of the presidential practice of rewarding big campaign donors with appointments as ambassadors.

Tsunis switched parties after Obama won the presidency in 2008 and became one of his major bundlers by raising $988,550 for his 2012 election.

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