WASHINGTON — It’s probably not the worst sign for an aspiring American diplomat when his congressional grilling ends with Santa Claus jokes.
The would-be next ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, was spared hostile questioning Wednesday during his Senate confirmation hearing.
By the time it was over, the only senator left in the room was the committee chairman and they were sharing chuckles about Old Saint Nick.
“You have displayed your diplomatic abilities in extraordinary fashion,” Sen. Robert Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told the rookie diplomat.
This was after an exchange where he’d asked the nominee, tongue planted in cheek, whether an ongoing Arctic mapping project might result in Santa being declared a U.S. citizen.
Heyman’s reply: the jolly North Pole resident is, in fact, a citizen of the world, and his safety is guaranteed by a joint Canada-U.S. military initiative, Norad.
And that’s where they left off.
If the Senate Foreign Relations committee recommends the appointment, and it’s then approved in a vote on the Senate floor, the Chicago investment banker and prominent Democratic party fundraiser will succeed another Chicagoan Democratic party fundraiser as the U.S. envoy to Ottawa.
During the brief hearing, John McCain had asked a couple of terse questions about the Keystone pipeline project.
The former presidential candidate received a non-answer from Heyman, stood up, and left the room.
It was a far cry from the interrogation earlier Wednesday to which McCain had subjected other nominees; he’d pummelled a previous panel with detailed followup questions about aid for Egypt, sanctions for Iran and help for Syrian fighters.
In Heyman’s case, he simply asked whether he supported Keystone. Heyman explained that his job wasn’t to make a decision on the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline, but merely to explain it to Canadians once a decision is finally made.
“There’s a process,” Heyman said.
To which McCain retorted: “So you have no position?” Heyman agreed. And McCain promptly left the room, concluding the most challenging moment of Heyman’s appearance.