Biden nominates tech exec, political adviser David Cohen as U.S. ambassador to Canada

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has nominated David Cohen, a tech executive who once served as chief of staff to the mayor of Philadelphia, to be his ambassador to Canada.

Cohen, a lawyer, lobbyist and fundraiser who currently serves as a senior adviser to the head of U.S. communications giant Comcast, had long been pegged as the likely nominee.

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In addition to a number of roles in a variety of Comcast departments, a White House biography says Cohen also served as the company’s chief diversity officer.

But he’s no stranger to political circles: in addition to serving as the company’s primary lobbyist, Cohen spent five years as chief of staff to Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell in the 1990s.

He also hosted the first fundraising event of Biden’s successful 2020 presidential election campaign.

“His Senate confirmation can’t come soon enough for the Canada-U.S. relationship,” said Scotty Greenwood, president and CEO of the Canadian American Business Council.

In a statement, Greenwood pointed to the mismatched travel restrictions between the two countries, as well as the “road map” for closer bilateral ties that Biden announced in February with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — one she said will require careful navigation.

“The need to return to a well co-ordinated, reciprocal border management process is more acute than ever, and the road map announcement by the president and the prime minister needs our top navigators in the front seat to turn its ambitious goals into reality.”

Word of Cohen’s nomination happened to come on the very day that the Department of Homeland Security extended COVID-19 travel restrictions at the Canada-U.S. land border.

Stakeholders and a growing chorus of U.S. lawmakers are upset with the decision, since Canada announced earlier this week it would start letting fully vaccinated U.S. citizens and permanent residents back into the country as of Aug. 9.

In a statement of his own, Cohen said if confirmed, he would look to grow “the important relationship” as both countries look to rebound from the pandemic.

In other long-awaited nominations, Biden also named Victoria Reggie Kennedy, a prominent D.C. lawyer and widow of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, to be his envoy to Austria, and Jamie Harpootlian to take up the post in Slovenia.

Not everyone was taken with the names, however.

Brett Bruen, a consultant and former U.S. diplomat who worked as an adviser in Barack Obama’s White House, complained on Twitter that the postings are too important to be treated as patronage appointments.

“Disappointing to see someone with absolutely no diplomatic experience sent to manage them in Ottawa,” Bruen tweeted. “Discouraging Biden continues to treat these serious national security positions as though they are political party favours.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2021.

— With files from The Associated Press

Biden nominates Comcast executive and Philly power broker David Cohen as ambassador to Canada

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is nominating Comcast executive and top political fund-raiser David L. Cohen to serve as his ambassador to Canada, the White House said Wednesday. He’s also naming Victoria Kennedy, an attorney and the widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy, to serve as his ambassador to Austria.

Cohen’s international departure would continue his trajectory as a master of behind-the-scenes politicking in increasingly broad arenas.

He was chief of staff when Ed Rendell was Philadelphia mayor, helping pull the city away from the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1990s. Cohen has been a fixture in Philadelphia’s political, business, philanthropic, and educational worlds ever since, later becoming an executive vice president of Comcast. He was one of Biden’s top “bundlers” of campaign donations, and his Mount Airy home became a regular fund-raising stop for former President Barack Obama and then Biden.

Cohen also became a consummate Washington insider for Comcast, leading high-stakes efforts such as securing regulatory approval for the company’s acquisition of NBCUniversal.

He has stepped back from his role at Comcast, transitioning from executive vice president to senior adviser to CEO Brian Roberts.

Cohen said in a statement that, if confirmed, he would look to grow “what is a very strong and important relationship as we continue to fight the pandemic and build our economies back stronger.”

Canada announced this week that it would ease restrictions at the border next month, allowing U.S. citizens and permanent residents living in the United States who are fully vaccinated to enter without quarantining. The U.S. government on Wednesday extended the closure of the land borders with Canada and Mexico to non-essential travelers until at least Aug. 21.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) hailed Cohen’s nomination as “an outstanding decision” by Biden.

”David’s global business acumen and decades of experience on the world stage will undoubtedly serve him well in this important role,” Toomey said.

Kennedy, a gun control advocate, came to know the president during the years when Biden served with her husband in the Senate.

She is the president of the board and co-founder of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, a nonpartisan nonprofit that educates the public about the U.S. Senate, and also leads the education committee of the board of trustees for the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Kennedy has also served on the boards of gun control advocacy groups, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., as well as Stop Handgun Violence in Boston. She founded the group Common Sense about Kids and Guns, aimed at reducing guns deaths and injuries to children.

“My parents and grandparents taught us through the example of their own lives how important it is to serve and give back,” Kennedy said in a statement. “And my late husband, and his extended family, embodied the noblest qualities of service to country. I am humbled by the confidence the President has placed in me, and if confirmed, I look forward to being able to serve my country as ambassador to Austria.”

Biden is also giving serious consideration to another member of the Kennedy family.

Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy who served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration, is being weighed as a contender to serve in a high-profile ambassadorial role – perhaps in Asia or Australia, according to a person familiar with the deliberations who was not authorized to comment.

The White House also announced that Biden was nominating Jamie Harpootlian, a South Carolina attorney and influential Democrat in the early primary state, to serve as his ambassador to Slovenia. She is married to another powerful South Carolina Democratic operative and Biden ally, state Sen. Dick Harpootlian.

The president’s victory in the South Carolina primary turned out to be the turning point for a campaign that struggled out of the gate.

-Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.

Toomey Statement on Nomination of David Cohen to be Ambassador to Canada

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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) issued the following statement regarding the nomination of David Cohen to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Canada:

“President Biden has made an outstanding decision in naming David Cohen to be ambassador to Canada, one of our closest and most important allies. David’s global business acumen and decades of experience on the world stage will undoubtedly serve him well in this important role. I look forward to enthusiastically supporting his nomination, and I hope my colleagues will join me in doing so.”