The Senate confirmed soap opera producer Colleen Bell to be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary and political consultant Noah Mamet to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Argentina on Tuesday. Neither of the two newly-confirmed Ambassadors are career diplomats, but both raised millions for President Obama's Presidential campaigns.
Bell, a bundler for the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns, is a producer of "The Bold and the Beautiful," which airs on CBS. The Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed her with a vote of 52 yeas to 42 nays.
Earlier this year, Bell struggled to name the U.S. strategic interests in Hungary when questioned during a hearing by Senator John McCain, R-Arizona. That prompted McCain to call Bell "totally unqualified" to represent the United States in Hungary, a country he referred to as "very important" to U.S. national security, particularly given rising Russian influence in Eastern Europe.
State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf disputed McCain's criticisms and cited Bell's work as a civic leader, trustee and working mother as unique qualifications.
Noah Mamet, also a bundler, is a consultant. He was confirmed in a vote of 50 yeas to 43 nays, despite sharp criticism by Republicans for not having ever visited Argentina.
"He's very excited to do that," State Department Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters and then said prior travel is not a job requirement nor an indicator of success.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennesse, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released a statement condemning the Obama administration's decision to "push through" the nominees.
"It is disappointing that in a transparent move, the White House and the Senate majority leader have chosen to prioritize doing political favors instead of working with Congress to confirm professional diplomats, further delaying our ability to fill important positions around the world," he said.
The union that represents the career diplomats who make up the foreign service, the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), issued guidelines earlier this year calling on the Obama administration to appoint ambassadors who have an "understanding of host country" and "high level policy operations." In addition, AFSA asked the administration to abide by a 1980 law (Section 304 of the Foreign Service Act) that states that "contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission."
Typically, presidents abide by the "70-30 rule," an unofficial guideline which stipulates that the majority of ambassador posts go to foreign service professionals while around a third of them can go to non-career appointees. Since Mr. Obama came to office, around 37 percent of his appointments have been so-called "political appointees." That's a higher number than Presidents Clinton and both Bushes but lower than Presidents Carter and Reagan.