When trying to appoint new ambassadors to foreign countries, the US Senate is where candidates get stuck in a holding pattern. Senators may block an appointment for various reasons, often because they have a personal agenda of their own to push forward. In the longest instance of blocking an appointment, an ambassador to Norway has been appointed after a staggering 869 days.
The issue first arose when the previous nominee for ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, demonstrated he wasn’t competent enough for the job when he called the Norwegian prime minister a president in 2013. After fumbling many other questions in his confirmation hearing, Tsunis chose to withdraw.
Since then, there has been no confirmed ambassador, simply an acting ambassador. In May 2015, Sam Heins, a Minnesota lawyer, was nominated for the role and immediately backed by Minnesota US Senator Amy Klobuchar. Minnesota boasts a large Norwegian community that strongly opposed Tsunis during his nomination for the Norwegian ambassadorship. Klobuchar has advocated strongly for Heins, but he was not quickly appointed.
The opposition arose from Senator Ted Cruz, who is also running for President as a Republican. His agenda was not personal so much as it was related to another international issue: the naming of a road in front of the Chinese Embassy. Cruz wanted the street to be named after a human-rights activist imprisoned in China, which may seem strange at first. This effort to rename the road was not Cruz’s initial plan; he was blocking all nominations from going forward in an effort to force Obama’s hand in the historic nuclear weapons deal with Iran. Since that did not work, Cruz changed his platform.
Even then, the complexity grew. Cruz, being on the campaign trail, has not been in Washington much, keeping him from objecting to diplomatic appointments in person. Yet, Senator Mitch McConnell did that work for Cruz as a personal favor. The holding pattern only ended when McConnell pushed to approve the ambassador on a day when few Senators were around. Cruz got to have the Chinese embassy street renamed, pending approval from the House of Representatives, and a true Norwegian was made ambassador to one of America’s oldest allies.