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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

One-third of Biden's ambassador nominees, so far, are campaign 'bundlers'

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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Good morning, Early Birds! The Biden administration’s website for free rapid tests formally launches today, President Biden will speak at his first news conference in what's felt like a million years and the White House will distribute 400 million free N95 masks beginning next week. Welcome to a busy two weeks: earlytips@washpost.com.

🚨: New York Attorney General Letitia James alleged on Tuesday that former president Donald Trump’s business inflated the value of his properties and misstated his personal worth in representations to lenders, insurance brokers and other players in his real estate empire,” our colleagues Shayna Jacobs, Jonathan O'Connell and Josh Dawsey report.

  • “We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” James tweeted. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

At the White House

Nearly a third of Biden's ambassador nominees to date are campaign bundlers

When he was running for president, President Biden pledged that no ambassadors in his administration would secure their jobs because they’d given to his campaign.

“I’m going to appoint the best people possible,” Biden said in 2019. “Nobody, in fact, will be appointed by me based on anything they contributed.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, though, Biden has nominated 25 former “bundlers” — those who raised at least $100,000 for his campaign — and their spouses as ambassadors. They represent 29 percent of his ambassadorial nominees — a higher share of bundler-ambassadors than George W. Bush or Barack Obama nominated in their first years in office, according to a Post analysis of data from the Partnership for Public Service, OpenSecrets and Biden’s campaign.

(We analyzed the nominations each president made between Jan. 20 and Dec. 31 of their inaugural years. Former president Donald Trump didn't disclose his bundlers, making it impossible to know how many he chose as ambassadors. But Trump nominated more than his fair share of donors, friends and allies as over his four years in office.)

The numbers don’t fully capture how many Biden donors have scored ambassadorships.

Biden nominated Meg Whitman, for instance, the former corporate executive and 2010 Republican nominee for California governor who spoke on Biden’s behalf at the Democratic National Convention, last month as U.S. ambassador to Kenya.

Whitman gave the Biden Victory Fund $500,000 in 2020, but she isn’t a bundler because she contributed her own money rather than raising it from others. Neither is George Tsunis, a wealthy hotelier and Democratic donor whom Biden tapped as ambassador to Greece.

Brett Bruen, who served in Obama’s White House as director of global engagement and is now a critic of Biden’s foreign policy, said Tsunis’s nomination had particularly demoralized some career diplomats because the Senate failed to confirm him for another ambassadorship during the Obama administration. Obama nominated Tsunis in 2013 to be ambassador to Norway, but he withdrew after he seemed unfamiliar with the country in his confirmation hearing, leading several Democrats to say they couldn't support him

Nominating Tsunis again has really wounded, I think, the administration’s standing among career diplomats,” Bruen said.

A White House official pointed out that many of the bundlers and other donors Biden has nominated as ambassadors are also highly qualified. Tom Nides, for instance, whom Biden picked as his ambassador to Israel, served as deputy secretary of state in the Obama administration. Ken Salazar, a bundler who's now Biden's ambassador to Mexico, is a former senator and interior secretary.

As for Tsunis, the White House has emphasized that he speaks Greek and has ties to the country — unlike Norway.

Past is prologue

Though it's hard to pinpoint how many bundlers-turned-ambassadors he named, Trump was widely criticized for nominating ambassadors who had few qualifications other than supporting him.

Robert Wood Johnson IV, Trump's ambassador to Britain, was accused of trying to steer the British Open to Trump's Scottish golf course at the president's suggestion. Kelly Craft, Trump's ambassador to Canada, raised questions about how much time she actually spent in the country. Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, was criticized for what one European diplomat described as his “abominable lack of knowledge of Europe and the European Union.”

Eric Rubin, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, said Biden’s record of nominating career diplomats as ambassadors was stronger than Trump’s. 

“There’s no question that those numbers in terms of percentages look better than the last administration,” Rubin told The Early. “But the Trump administration cannot be the standard that we judge this administration on.”

Just 39 percent of Biden’s ambassadorial nominees to date have been career foreign service officers, according to the American Foreign Service Association. (Some of Biden’s nominees — such as former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whom Biden tapped as his ambassador to Japan — aren’t career diplomats but also weren’t bundlers or major donors.)

But Biden also kept on many career ambassadors who had been nominated by Trump, Rubin said. He expects Biden’s nominees for ambassadorships will ultimately be about two-thirds career diplomats, in line with the pre-Trump historical norm.

Bundlers and donors with ties to the president can make good ambassadors — and sometimes foreign countries prefer them. 

“They refused to accept a career diplomat,” Robert Jordan, a bundler for George W. Bush’s campaign who became U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told The Tulsa World in 2015. “They wanted someone who knew the president, who could go over the heads of the bureaucracy and wasn’t worried about his career.”

A sluggish pace

Jeff Hauser, the executive director of the Revolving Door Project, which has scrutinized the Biden administration's hires and nominees, said he was less troubled by Biden's nominating former bundlers as ambassadors than by the relatively small number of ambassadors the White House has nominated at all.

George W. Bush had nominated 119 ambassadors on Dec. 31 of his first year in office, according to the Partnership for Public Service. Obama had nominated 107. Biden, in contrast, had nominated only 87. (He is still doing better than Trump, who chose only 64 in the same period.)

While Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and other Republicans spent months blockading Biden's nominees, the obstruction didn't prevent Biden from making nominations.

“They’re moving very slowly on picks,” Hauser said. “That is one clear conclusion.”

On the Hill

House Jan. 6 committee subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell

Back to the Willard: The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, issued subpoenas Tuesday to members of Trump’s outside legal team who pursued and disseminated unfounded claims of mass election fraud, including Trump’s former personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, former White House aide Boris Epshteyn, and lawyers Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, Jackie and Tom Hamburger report.

  • “The four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes,” Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement.

Family matters: The committee has also subpoenaed and obtained records of phone numbers associated with Eric Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, Donald Trump Jr.'s fiancee, a person familiar with the committee’s work, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed Tuesday. The news was first reported by CNN's Jamie Gangel, Jeremy Herb and Elizabeth Stuart.

Giuliani and Epshteyn were part of the group of Trump advisers who coalesced at a “command center” at the Willard Hotel in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and the counting of electoral votes, The Washington Post reported.

In a letter transmitting notice of the subpoenas, Thompson cites Giuliani’s involvement in seeking to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results, his urging of Trump to seize voting machines across the country, and his contact with Trump in the days ahead of Jan. 6 “regarding strategies for delaying or overturning the results of the 2020 election.”

Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, said Tuesday he will review the subpoena but notes there are significant legal barriers to Giuliani providing information related to his work.

The committee is also seeking a deposition from Powell, as well as documents related to her claims of election fraud on behalf of the former president. Powell, who did not respond to request for comment, raised millions off her efforts to reverse the election results. Federal prosecutors last fall demanded the financial records of multiple fundraising organizations she founded to pay for election litigation.

Landing today:

Senate Democrats to take up voting rights and election-overhaul legislation, a likely doomed effort

Also happening today: Senate Democrats will “mount a long-shot effort to establish an exception to the filibuster for voting rights bills, requiring opponents to hold the floor for an old-style ‘talking filibuster’ that would allow a final, 51-senator majority vote — instead of the 60 now needed — to move forward after all senators had exhausted their opportunities to speak,” the New York Times’s Carl Hulse reports.

  • Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) could “move as early as [this] evening to change the rules. Success in changing the rules would require the support of all 50 Democrats and independents, plus the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Harris.”
  • But with Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) and Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) steadfastly opposed to partisan changes to the filibuster, Schumer’s plan is expected to fail, “likely bringing Democrats’s year-long struggle to pass voting legislation to a frustrating end,” our colleagues Amy B Wang and Mike DeBonis write.

Manchinema’s opposition drew fire from prominent organizations Tuesday, including NARAL:

Emily’s List: 

And the NAACP:

The Media

What we’re reading: 

The Biden-Harris year in review: 

Viral

Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers gets blunt in his first campaign ad: 

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @jaxalemany.

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