Two Los Angeles fundraisers — soap opera producer Colleen Bell and political consultant Noah Mamet — were confirmed by the Senate as ambassadors after a contentious nomination process.
The Senate confirmed Mamet as ambassador to Argentina by a vote of 50-43, and Bell as Ambassador to Hungary by a vote of 52-42. The votes were along party lines.
Their confirmations had been delayed after Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), raised objections over their qualifications. McCain even wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the sole criterion for their selection was their ability to raise money for President Obama’s re-election campaign. He singled out Mamet for admitting that he had not yet been to Argentina, and Bell, producer of “The Bold and the Beautiful,” for struggling to “define even one strategic interest in the U.S. relationship with Hungary.”
But the practice of filling ambassadorships with political appointees is not new, particularly in countries that are not world hotspots. Democratic and Republican presidents have long filled their ranks with friends and campaign fundraisers. Mamet and Bell each raised more than $500,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign.
Neither the lack of a foreign policy background nor the failure to visit the country have necessarily capsized an individual’s bid for an ambassadorship, as ambassadors are assisted by career diplomats.
Charles Rivkin, former CEO of Wild Brain Media and the Jim Henson Co., was a bundler for President Obama in 2008 and went on to become ambassador to France, earning high marks from a State Department inspector general’s report.
On the Senate floor on Tuesday, McCain again blasted the political appointments, but Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) defended them. “Just because someone is a producer of a popular television show, that doesn’t disqualify them,” Boxer said, according to Yahoo News. “She’s an intelligent woman. She knows how to be successful.”
The nominations would have been in jeopardy had a vote been delayed with Senate control shifting to the GOP.
Update: The confirmations came up in the White House press briefing on Tuesday, when ABC News’ Jon karl pressed Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Bell’s qualifications.
KARL: Josh, I want to ask about something else that happened today in the Senate. You had some of your ambassadors confirmed after a long process. One of those, Colleen Bell, confirmed as ambassador to Hungary. If you can remind me, what areColleen Bell’s qualifications for ambassador? Is it that she was a soap opera producer? Is it that she gave hundreds of thousands of dollars or helped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama reelection campaign? Why was she chosen?
EARNEST: Jon, I can tell you first that you’re right, that the confirmation of these individuals to these important ambassadorial posts is long overdue and we certainly are pleased that the Senate has finally acted on them.
As it relates to Ambassador Bell, she is somebody who retains the confidence — well, let me say it this way. Ambassador Bell has the President’s confidence that she will do an excellent job representing the United States and maintaining the important relationship that the United States has with the government and the people of Hungary.
KARL: But where does the President get that confidence? I mean, in her confirmation hearing, she couldn’t even name a single strategic interest the United States had with Hungary.
EARNEST: Well, she certainly is somebody, again, that has had her own distinguished private sector career.
KARL: As a soap opera producer.
EARNEST: Well, and as somebody who obviously has succeeded in the business world. And she is somebody that the President has confidence will be able to maintain our relationship with the government and the people of Hungary.