Karl Rove, the former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush, lauded President Donald Trump's pick for ambassador to the European Union as a savvy businessman who will serve as a moderating voice on behalf of the United States.
Rove met Gordon Sondland, a multimillionaire hotel mogul and long-time Republican donor, nearly two decades ago when the younger Bush was prepping for his first presidential run. Rove and Sondland have since become good friends, sharing skepticism of then-candidate Trump during the 2016 presidential election.
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But Sondland, a first-generation American whose parents fled Nazi Germany, has since changed his tune, donating $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee in 2017. Rove said Sondland's family background and experience as a hotelier makes him a unique pick for the slot of envoy to the EU.
"He's been actively engaged in thinking about the world for a long time," Rove told the Washington Free Beacon. "[Diplomatic] jobs like this require you to juggle a lot of things at the same time and require you to have a sense of collegiality because you're dealing with a lot of different people, from a lot of different countries, on a lot of different issues simultaneously, and I think this is going to be one of his strengths. He's used to having a bunch of different balls in the air."
Sen. Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), who met Sondland during his 2014 bid for U.S. Senate, said the mogul's family history is particularly pertinent to the post at a time when populism and anti-Semitism are on the rise in Europe and the United States.
His parents, Günther Sondland and Frieda Piepsch, were born in Berlin and forced to escape the country soon after they married due to the rise of Hitler and onset of World War II. Sondland told the Portland Business Journal that his parents weren't reunited until eight years after they fled Germany.
"When you have parents who were brought up as his were, then you have to believe that part of the family tradition is understanding what can happen when these ideas take hold and understanding the reality that we're only a couple of generations away from what happened in Nazi Germany," Tillis said. "Having that in the back of your mind, having that family experience and history, is just another reason why he rounds out a good resume for the job."
Sondland is the founder and chief executive of Provenance Hotels, which oversees several boutique hotels restaurants located primarily in Portland and Seattle. He also runs a charity with his wife, Katherine Durant, and sits on the advisory board of bank holding company U.S. Bancorp.
Though Sondland has never served in the government, he worked for more than a decade alongside former Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat who held the office from 2003 to 2011. Kulongoski said Sondland's values will serve him well in Brussels if he is confirmed for the position.
"He has a good ability to work with people and to bring both sides together and I think that will be good for this country given not only what's going on in the world, but specifically in Europe," Kulongoski told the Free Beacon. "I've seen Gordon in business and he listens very well and that's what a diplomat is supposed to do—to listen well, know what the administration wants, and basically be their advocate. I think he can do that very well, he did that for me."
Sondland landed the nomination in May despite his public denunciation of Trump's candidacy. Sondland and his business partner, Bashar Wali, the president of Provenance Hotels, withdrew from a major fundraiser for Trump in August 2016 after Trump criticized Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq. In a statement issued at the time, Sondland and Wali said that Trump's "constantly evolving positions diverge from their personal beliefs and values on so many levels."
Trump has had a shaky relationship with the EU, raising questions about whether the administration would fill the EU ambassador position. Tensions escalated on Thursday after the White House announced it would impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Despite ongoing friction, the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee chairman David McAllister welcomed Sondland's appointment to the post, which has been vacant since January 2017, calling the nomination "good news we have been waiting for a long time."
The president has sent Sondland's nomination to the U.S. Senate for approval, which could take another several months.