Jon Karl to State Department: How Much Does It Cost to Become an Ambassador?

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ABC reporter Jonathan Karl asked how much it costs to be named an ambassador by the Obama administration during the State Department press briefing Friday, in the wake of embarrassing gaffes by Obama bundlers nominated for diplomatic posts.

“The percentage is 37 percent, which is considerably more political appointees than George Bush had, considerably more than Bill Clinton had,” Karl said. “I mean, most of these gave hundreds of thousands of dollars or raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama campaign. How much does it cost to become an ambassador, to be named ambassador, in the Obama administration?”

The remarks drew laughter from the press corps, and spokeswoman Jen Psaki called it a “TV question,” but Karl pressed for an answer.

“The White House names ambassadors, so I would certainly point you to my old colleagues across the street for that,” Psaki said.

Two prominent Democratic donors, George Tsunis and Noah Mamet, recently made headlines for revealing their shortcomings as ambassadors for their respective countries. Tsunis wrongly said Norway was a republic and stated a member of its ruling coalition was a fringe element, and Mamet admitted he had never even been to Argentina.

“I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail,” Psaki said. “And the judgment can’t be made about how effective they’ll be or how appreciated they’ll be by the government until we have that happen.”

Full exchange:

JEN PSAKI: Any more on Syria? Go ahead. Jonathan Karl, what do we owe this pleasure?

JONATHAN KARL: It’s great to be back in the building.

PSAKI: Ok.

KARL: I just have a few questions on the president’s nominees to be ambassadors around the world. What, in a nutshell, are the essential qualifications to be named U.S. ambassador?

PSAKI: Well, fortunately the United States has diplomatic relationships with many, many countries around the world, as you know, and we have ambassadors who are from political backgrounds, who are from financial backgrounds, who have run companies large and small. But our process has continued to be — or our approach has continued to be approximately a 70/30 balance of career employees. So people have been working through the foreign service and serving around the world, building that level of experience, and then about 30 percent from outside the private sector.

Over the course of history, there have been many, many ambassadors who have come from outside of the — of the career paths who’ve been very successful. And, you know, just to point you to a two –to a few: Sargent Shriver, former Vice President Mondale, Pamela Harriman. There are many who have been very successful serving in these roles in countries around the world, and that’s part of the reason why this will continue.

KARL: So I mean, as you know, there’s been some criticism that — of the specific qualifications of some of the recent nominees. I mean, George Tsunis didn’t seem to even know what type of government Norway has, called one of the members of the ruling coalition a fringe element. So I’m wondering does an — does an ambassador have to have at least some basic knowledge of the country that he is going to?

PSAKI: Well, I think ambassadors go to countries — obviously that’s the goal — but the ambassadors go to countries to represent the United States, to be a resource to people on the ground. We’ve seen those reports. We’ve all read them. But I would encourage people to give those who have had tougher hearings a chance to go to their countries and see what their tenure will entail. And the judgment can’t be made about how effective they’ll be or how appreciated they’ll be by the government until we have that happen.

KARL: So right now you have — the percentage is 37 percent, which is considerably more political appointees than George Bush had, considerably more than Bill Clinton had. And I’m going through the list. I mean, most of these gave hundreds of thousands of dollars or raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Obama campaign. How much does it cost to become an ambassador, to be named ambassador, in the Obama administration? (Laughter.)

PSAKI: Jonathan Karl, always a TV question. We don’t determine —

KARL: Well, it’s serious because —

PSAKI: I’m not — I’m not — it is a serious question. We don’t name ambassadors from the State Department. The White House names ambassadors, so I would certainly point you to my old colleagues across the street for that. What I was conveying is that from the State Department point of view there have been many, many political ambassadors, people who have come from a range of histories and backgrounds, who have been very successful and worked very effectively in these roles.

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