President Obama speaks during an reception for the U.S. Conference of Mayors in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014, in Washington. / Carolyn Kaster AP
WASHINGTON - President Obama still has confidence in his pick to be the next ambassador to Norway, even after demonstrating that he might need to bone up on Norwegian politics before heading to Oslo.
George Tsunis, managing director of Chartwell Hotels and a major fundraiser for Obama's 2012 campaign, has been pilloried by Norway's press after he stumbled over a question about Norway's Progress Party during his confirmation hearing last week.
Under questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Tsunis seemed to be unaware that Norway's Progress Party -which has taken a hard line on immigration policy - was part of the government coalition.
"One of the byproducts of being such an open society, and placing such a value on free speech is you get some fringe elements that have a microphone, that spew their hatred, although I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them," said Tsunis, who raised at least $500,000 for Obama's 2012 campaign according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
A puzzled McCain stopped Tsunis. "The government has denounced them? They're part of the coalition of the government," McCain said.
"I stand corrected and would like to leave my answer at they are -- it's a very, very open society and that most Norwegians -- the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don't feel the same way," Tsunis said.
Tsunis also stumbled during his testimony, when he referred to the Norway's president. The country does not have a president.
Norway's English-language news site described Tsunis as having "total ignorance of Norway" after his performance.
Obama, however, is sticking by Tsunis.
"This president has confidence in all of the nominees he's put forward for ambassadorial positions," said White House press secretary Jay Carney.
It should be noted that it's not unusual for big-time donors to get plum ambassadorships in the Obama White House or in past administrations.
More than 36% of Obama's ambassadorial nominees have been political appointments. Just over 30% of George W. Bush's ambassadorial picks were political appointees, nearly 28% of Bill Clinton's ambassadors were political picks, according to the American Foreign Service Association.
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Read the original story: Obama 'confident' with ambassador pick despite blunders