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George Tsunis

N.D. senators oppose Norway ambassador pick

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Both of North Dakota’s senators said Monday they opposed President Barack Obama’s nomination for the ambassador to Norway.

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Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican John Hoeven both cited George Tsunis’ apparent lack of knowledge about Norway, a common criticism since Tsunis’ appearance during a Senate confirmation hearing in January.

During that hearing, Tsunis, a New York businessman and Obama fundraiser in 2012, said Norway has a president, when it actually has a king and prime minister. He also said he has never been to the country.

 “Mr. Tsunis’ nomination hearing in the Senate showed a serious lack of understanding of Norway and, since that time, I have heard from many Norwegian Americans in North Dakota who have expressed their concerns with him,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “As I told the administration, I cannot support Mr. Tsunis’ nomination.”

Heitkamp joins Minnesota’s two Democratic Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, who have publicly opposed Tsunis’ nomination. Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader earlier this month he also opposes the nomination.

“I’m not supportive of the nomination the president’s put forward, because I don’t believe the Norwegian people are supportive, based on the fact that he’s never been to Norway and really didn’t know anything about their country,” Hoeven said during a visit to Grand Forks Monday.

North Dakota Rep. Kevin Cramer, along with all eight members of Minnesota’s House delegation, requested that Obama withdraw Tsunis’ nomination in a letter last week. The Senate approves nominations made by the president.

“His ill-informed comments deeply offended several Norwegian officials and have caused many to doubt his ability to serve as an effective ambassador,” the letter posted on the Star Tribune’s website stated.

At the January hearing, Tsunis also characterized one of Norway’s political parties and member of the coalition government as a “fringe element” that Norway has denounced, an answer that drew a rebuke from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

McCain told Fox News earlier this year that Tsunis’ hearing had gone viral in Norway.

“And frankly, the Norwegian people aren’t very happy about getting that kind of ambassador to represent the United States in their country,” he said.

Both North Dakota and Minnesota have strong ties to Norwegian culture. According to the North Dakota Department of Commerce, about 33 percent of people living in North Dakota today are of Norwegian heritage.  

“We need an ambassador to Norway who understands the strong ties that many states like North Dakota have with Norway, and who can protect the longstanding relationship between our two countries,” Heitkamp said in her statement.

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John Hageman
John Hageman covers local business and Grand Forks' legislative delegation. Get more business news at aroundtown.areavoices.com. 
(701) 780-1244
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