Presumptive ambassador to China Baucus: ‘I’m no real expert on China.’

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

There’s little doubt that outgoing Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) will be confirmed as the next ambassador to China, despite a somewhat less-than-stellar performance this week before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) asked if, as Baucus indicated, the “Chinese leadership’s primary motivation is the well-being” of its citizens, “What do you think would motivate them to initiate the air defense notification zone?” (As Loop Fans know, this is a dangerous escalation by a bellicose China in an already nasty dispute with Japan over islands –and undersea riches — in the East China Sea.)

Baucus started with a jaw-dropper: “I’m no real expert on China.” He continued with an awkward comment about his “strong belief that the Chinese people are just as proud as we Americans are proud.” Still, he seemed to fully understand the serious implications of Beijing’s gambit.

That moment recalled some truly embarrassing committee appearances this month by Obama mega-bundler ambassadorial nominees when they were questioned by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Colleen Bell, Hollywood producer of the TV soap “The Bold and the Beautiful,” raised or contributed about $800,000 to Obama 2012. So she was  picked to be ambassador to Hungary —  a country which, as we’ve noted, has vexed Washington of late over human rights and other issues.

“What are our strategic interests in Hungary?” McCain asked.

“Well, we have,” Bell said, “our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade…..”

McCain interrupted: “I’d like to ask again what our strategic interests in Hungary are.”

“Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies,” she said, “to work to promote and protect the security, both — for both countries and for — and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years.”

“Great answer,” McCain said, dripping scorn.

McCain then turned to George Tsunis, founder and CEO of Chartwell Hotels, who bundled  or contributed more than $1.3 million for Obama in 2012 — and gave $50,000 to McCain in 2008!! — and thus is the nominee for ambassador to Norway. His performance, one Norwegian news outlet said, was “faltering, incoherent” and displayed a “total ignorance” of the country.

McCain asked him about the “anti-immigration” Progress Party in Norway.

“You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred,” Tsunis  said. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.”

“The government has denounced them?” McCain said. They are “part of the governing coalition,” he said, so they were hardly being denounced.

“I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain derisively concluded after another minute or so.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.
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Al Kamen · January 30