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Minnesotan confirmed as Norway ambassador, ending long saga

WASHINGTON — An international embarrassment for the U.S. — and, more importantly, Minnesota — has finally come to an end: on Friday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Minneapolis attorney Sam Heins as the new American ambassador to the Kingdom of Norway.

Samuel Heins

Normally, this would not be such a big deal — diplomatic confirmations tend to be routine and don’t attract much fanfare. But the U.S. ambassador’s chair in Oslo has sat vacant for 869 days, thanks to a blunder from the White House and procedural maneuvers from Senate Republicans.

In 2014, President Barack Obama named New York businessman and lawyer George Tsunis as his nominee for U.S. ambassador, but he withdrew himself later that year after an embarrassing hearing. Obama then nominated Heins, an accomplished lawyer from Minneapolis who, like many ambassador candidates, has been a donor and supporter of the president.

But Heins’ bid languished in the Senate all of last year, when several Senate Republicans placed holds on White House diplomatic appointments to protest the Iran nuclear deal and other foreign policy issues. Freshman Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton placed a hold on Heins’ confirmation but later removed it. A GOP presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, had been keeping the hold in place for months, along with another hold on the confirmation of Azita Raji, nominee for ambassador to Sweden.

In an interview with MinnPost, Sen. Amy Klobuchar explained her role in all this: namely, “being a pain.” Along with New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Klobuchar aimed to needle GOP leadership into finding a way to move ahead with the confirmations. In recent weeks, Shaheen and Klobuchar traded off going to the Senate floor each day to voice their displeasure with the Senate’s foot-dragging on diplomatic appointments.

Cruz, being the only real objector to the confirmations, had to find other senators willing to maintain his holds while he was out campaigning. That task often fell to Utah Sen. Mike Lee, one of the Texan’s few allies in the Senate, and someone who Klobuchar calls a friend.

Klobuchar acknowledged that presidential politics held the confirmation hostage, “but at the same time, I decided we’d use it to our advantage,” she said, and pushed Senate leaders to move ahead in Cruz’s absence.

Ultimately, with Cruz away in South Carolina on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the Norway and Sweden ambassadorship confirmations on the docket. Both went through the chamber unanimously — no objection from Lee.

Heins himself is not of Norwegian descent, but said in his confirmation hearing that Minnesotans are “honorary Norwegians.” Klobuchar said it is a “good day for Minnesota, and history has been righted — we finally have a Minnesotan back in the embassy in Norway.”

Klobuchar said she would celebrate with lutefisk, but she demurred when pressed on the question.

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Jim Roth on 02/12/2016 - 01:15 pm.

    A Good Appointment But A Broken System

    Congratulations to Sam Heins on a well deserved appointment. He is a distinguished lawyer who has also spent much of his career establishing, building and supporting non-profits such as the now world renowned Advocates for Human Rights and The Center for Victims of Torture among others. He has also generously supported on the online international human rights library at the University of Minnesota and many other projects.

    On the hand the lengthy and unnecessary delays cast a stench on our political system and reflect the petty and mean-spirited political gamesmanship of people like Senator and now Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz. Thanks to our Senator Amy Klobuchar for her persistent efforts to keep attention focused on this matter and finally achieve a positive outcome for the people of Minnesota, the US and Norway.

  2. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/12/2016 - 01:46 pm.

    Nominations

    When Churchill said that democracy was the worst form of government except for all the others, this stuff is not what he had in mind. There is no one involved in this story in any of it’s aspects who shouldn’t be embarrassed.

    • Submitted by Jim Roth on 02/12/2016 - 10:09 pm.

      Please Specify

      @ Hiram Foster, Please describe why Sam Heins and Senator Klobuchar should be embarrassed by this story.

  3. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/13/2016 - 06:53 am.

    Patronage

    Please describe why Sam Heins and Senator Klobuchar should be embarrassed by this story.

    Because it draws unnecessary attention to a patronage employee, which is strictly a matter of inside politics. All this for an appointment that will less than a year.

    • Submitted by C.S. Senne on 02/13/2016 - 09:29 am.

      Embarrassment?

      Painting this situation with a broad brush of negativity is an example of why obstructionist politicians like the vile Mr. Cruz are able to hold our government hostage. I’m grateful that Senators Klobuchar and Shaheen were willing to work positively to get things done, despite Cruz’s my-way-or-the-highway sanctimony.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/15/2016 - 01:00 pm.

      Unnecessary Attention?

      Why is this attention unnecessary? Ambassadors are supposed to be confirmed by the Senate.

      “Patronage?” Why do you have such a low opinion of our diplomatic service?

  4. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 02/13/2016 - 11:56 am.

    Senator Klobuchar and grown up behavior

    Our senator is a compelling argument for mature female leadership.. This is akin to a dutiful mom who picks up the socks and underwear her teenaged son has thrown on the floor,because opening the hamper lid is too much effort for him. While Republicans sit around complain and act passive aggressive in not doing the small tasks expected of them, Amy takes care of business. With a Congress made up of self-centered Republican men who are trying to sabotage government from the inside, it is good to be represented by a modest person who sees a job and finishes it.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 02/13/2016 - 01:53 pm.

    What this story shows is how Senator Ted Cruz is willing to put his own interests ahead of the country’s, and why he has no friends in the U.S. Senate (none of them endorses him for President, I understand).

    Count the days since nomination: the ambassador’s term would have been much longer than a year without Cruz’s hold, and we would not have insulted a solid ally by not sending an ambassador there. Diplomacy counts in a world where many of us would prefer alternatives to war.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/14/2016 - 08:30 am.

    Better things

    I am trying to residt being scathing on this issue, but really, I think senators should be seen as doing things more important than finding plum jobs for their important political supporters. This kind of patronage politics as usual is what people have really come hate about our politics.

  7. Submitted by Jim Roth on 02/15/2016 - 12:42 pm.

    Approving a Highly Qualified Ambassador to Norway

    Sam Heins is a highly qualified person for this position. You can rail at the system all you want but when a highly qualified person is appointed to an Ambassadorship the system is working. The position was open and in need of being filled. Senator Klobuchar did her job in seeing that the position was filled by a highly qualified individual. I think you need to find a better example if you want to rail about “patronage politics as usual.”

  8. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/16/2016 - 06:52 am.

    Sam Heins is a highly qualified person for this position

    How is Sam’s Norwegian these days? But in any event, he didn’t get the job because of his qualifications, he got it because he is DFL activist, a beneficiary of the spoils system. And I am not un Ok with that. The spoils system is working to the extent that with a huge amount of hard work and who knows how many compromises, two DFL senators are able to manage an appointment for a friend 7 years into a Democratic president’s time of office. My question is, why should we care if such a system work? And really isn’t there a better system out there, one that would work more effectively?

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