President Joe Biden named telecom executive and Democratic fundraiser David Cohen to be his ambassador to Canada.
Cohen, if confirmed by the Senate, would take over the job in Ottawa at a time of stronger ties between the White House and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office.
Biden’s arrival and his personal connection with Trudeau have eased tensions at the top following four tumultuous years in the relationship under the Trump administration.
Challenges: Cohen, however, would still have major issues to tackle, particularly when it comes to trade and economic matters.
Cross-border differences include “Buy America” policies, softwood lumber, dairy, digital services taxes and genetically modified crops.
Cooperation: Since Biden took office, the neighbors have pledged to cooperate on a number of areas. The president and Trudeau held an extensive virtual meeting in February and laid out a “road map” of bilateral commitments.
Biden has also pledged to work with Ottawa until two Canadians jailed in China are set free.
The Covid-19 restrictions at the shared frontier, and their removal, have also emerged as a key policy area for the both sides.
Who he is: Cohen is a longtime senior executive at Comcast, a major American cable, internet and phone service provider headquartered in Philadelphia. He served as Ed Rendell’s chief of staff when the Democrat served as the city’s mayor in the 1990s.
Cohen hosted a fundraiser for Biden on his first official day as a presidential candidate in April 2019 and was a campaign bundler for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He’s also raised money for Pennsylvania Republicans.
What he means for Canada: Cohen would likely have a direct line to the White House — a valuable trait to Ottawa.
In recent years, Lornado has been a destination for political ambassador picks, an approach that sits just fine with the Canadian government. A common language and proximity to the States — as well as its close relationship with Washington — make Canada an attractive destination for those political players.
In an interview published earlier this month, Cohen gave Penn Today a glimpse of how he stays motivated.
“People used to say to me that I don’t know how to say no, that I say yes to everything,” Cohen told the university publication. “And for two or three years, I asked my assistant to keep a list of everything I said no to. After a couple years, there were about 500 items on the list. So I argue, I do know how to say no, but I don’t say no to anything that’s important. I’ve long lived by the Ben Franklin line, that if you want something done, go find the busiest person and ask them to do it.”
Cohen wasn’t the only Biden booster vying for the Canada post. Richard Perkins, a former Nevada state legislator and the founder and CEO of the Business Council of Canada and Nevada, expressed his interest in the job to POLITICO in March. Former U.S. Senate majority leader and Nevada Democrat Harry Reid had advocated on his behalf.
Rendell talked up Cohen to media outlets as a potential ambassadorial pick after Biden won the 2020 election, noting his interest in a high-profile country like Canada.
“He’s not looking for the Bahamas,” Rendell told The Philadelphia Inquirer in December.
Other nominees: Victoria Reggie Kennedy — the second wife and widow of longtime Sen. Ted Kennedy — was nominated as ambassador to Austria. Kennedy was a mentor to the president, a person to whom Biden attributes his political rise.
Kennedy, who practices law in both Boston and Washington, D.C., is the co-founder of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate. She is also a gun safety advocate and founded Common Sense about Kids and Guns, a group aimed at reducing gun violence deaths and injuries to children.
Biden also announced Jamie Harpootlian as his nominee for ambassador to Slovenia. The South Carolina lawyer was appointed by the Department of Justice, Civil Division to serve as a hearing officer on the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
She previously worked for 17 years as a career judicial law clerk in a U.S. district court in Louisiana.
Last week, Biden nominated former Sen. Jeff Flake to serve as ambassador to Turkey, a significant diplomatic post for the anti-Trump Republican.
Myah Ward contributed to this report.