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The Senate, rejecting an impassioned plea from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), on Tuesday confirmed two major Obama campaign contributors for ambassadorships to Hungary and Argentina.
The confirmations of Hollywood television producer Colleen Bell to Budapest and Noah Mamet to Buenos Aires had sparked unusual controversy — including a letter in opposition from 15 former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, the union of career diplomats — after their faltering performances in their confirmation hearings.
Bell stumbled when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked her what America’s strategic interests were in Hungary, which has become a difficult posting in recent years as the government cracks down on dissenters.
McCain implored the Senate to vote against the nomination. He said he understood that “rewarding supporters to cushy jobs in the Caribbean is something both parties do.” But “this is a very important country where bad things are going on,” he said. McCain said that Bell’s experience “has been producing the television soap opera ‘The Bold and the Beautiful'” and that she is “totally unqualified for this position and this country.” (She has managed the on-and-off-again romantic tension between Ridge and Brooke for decades though …)
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), in a retort, called McCain’s opposition “ridiculous,” saying that “you would think this is the first time” a president had nominated a political appointee. Being a “producer of a very popular show doesn’t disqualify her,” Boxer said, adding that McCain probably supported nominees who “perhaps didn’t work at all.”
Bell is “intelligent and successful and will do a good job,” Boxer said, “and she knows how to make friends and she’s not angry.” (We can’t help but think that Boxer might have been making a dig there at the famously hot-tempered McCain.)
Republicans had registered similar opposition to Mamet, a Los Angeles consultant who raised nearly $1.4 million for the Obama campaign and was nominated to be ambassador to Argentina. Mamet acknowledged at his hearing that he’d never been to Argentina — not in itself a disqualifying factor, really — and that he spoke only a little Spanish.
He also called Argentina a U.S. ally, leading Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to conclude that Mamet was clueless about the country. Relations between the two countries have deteriorated of late over various policy disputes, including whether Washington has been sufficiently supportive of Argentina’s financial difficulties.
But, in the end, the Senate confirmed both nominees, though by relatively narrow, party-line margins. Mamet was confirmed 50 to 43, and Bell was approved 52 to 42.