Carol Felsenthal
On politics

Another Obama Bundler From Chicago Gets a Plum Diplomatic Post

Andrew Schapiro, a friend of the president from law school, is nominated to serve in the Czech Republic. Unlike many other bundler/ambassadors, he’s qualified.

The U.S. Embassy’s Gloriette pavilion in in Prague Photo U.S. Embassy Prague

Andrew Schapiro overlapped with Barack Obama at Harvard Law School—Schapiro was a year ahead—and, like the future president, served on the Harvard Law Review. They remained friends and Schapiro and his wife, Tamar Newberger, were among Obama’s top fundraisers/bundlers.

The reward for Schapiro, a white-collar defense litigator specializing in appellate cases, a partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and before that at Mayer Brown, is the nomination for the posting to Prague as our country’s ambassador to the Czech Republic.

It’s a lovely assignment. The ambassador’s 72-room Beaux-Arts residence, built in the late 1920s by a Jewish businessman and once home to the late Shirley Temple Black, ambassador to Czechoslovakia during the 1989 Velvet Revolution, sits on six acres, and comes complete with a uniformed staff.

A magna cum laude graduate of Yale College and Harvard Law School, a Marshall Scholar at Oxford, law clerk to federal appeals court judge Richard Posner and to Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun, Schapiro may have no discernable foreign policy experience, but he certainly has the intellectual chops to be posted abroad. He’s unlikely to earn the scorn of Senate Foreign Relations Committee member John McCain, who has heaped abuse on other political (bundler) as opposed to professional (Foreign Service-trained) nominees. 

A critical mass of complaint about bundler nominees has been established in recent weeks, bolstered by several op-ed pieces calling for the end to this practice, and citing some of the more ludicrous Obama nominees—a bundler ambassador to Norway, George Tsunis, who didn’t know that the country, a constitutional monarchy, doesn’t have a president; a bundler ambassador to Argentina, Noah Mamet, who, McCain wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “seemed not to understand basic facts about Argentina or the serious challenges that would confront our ambassador there,” and had never set foot in that country. And, as I have written previously, bundler Colleen Bell, former Chicagoan and soap opera producer/writer, Obama’s nominee to take over the embassy in Budapest, who fumbled the answer to McCain’s question, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”

Bell and Tsunis have already had their hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but have not yet been confirmed by the full Senate (Mamet has not yet had his committee vote), although all three likely will be eventually—and reluctantly. 

The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reported yesterday that 15 former presidents of the American Foreign Service Association, a trade union for members of the Foreign Service, wrote to Senate leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, as well as 11 other senators, asking that they reject Tsunis, Bell and Mamet, who, they wrote, have been “subjected to widespread ridicule, not only in the U.S. but also abroad.” The reason to reject given by the former AFSA presidents is that “[the nominees] appear to have been chosen on the basis of their service in raising money for electoral campaigns.”

Schapiro is a different caliber of nominee whose hearing, I’d wager, will be respectful, his performance way above average, and his confirmation by the committee and the full Senate, certain. He succeeds another bundler ambassador, Norman Eisen, also an Obama Harvard Law classmate (and a litigator), who, before going to Prague in 2011, was the White House ethics advisor.

His family history will work in his favor. Schapiro’s mother, who was born in Prague, was a Czech refugee from the Holocaust. According to a 2007 Sun-Times obituary, Raya Czerner, then 5, and her sister, Helga, 7, escaped with an uncle from Nazi-held Czechoslovakia. Their grandmother and another uncle stayed behind and both died, one at Treblinka and the other at Auschwitz. Raya’s family settled in Hyde Park and she attended Chicago public schools,  became a psychiatrist in Chicago, taught at Northwestern Medical School, and married Joseph Schapiro, a pediatrician. 

Eisen’s mother, according to the Washington Post, “…grew up in what was then eastern Czechoslovakia, survived Auschwitz, returned home after the war and, when the Communists took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, fled to the United States.” 

In an odd and satisfying twist of history, the embassy residence in which Eisen (an Orthodox Jew) lives and Schapiro, also Jewish, will soon live, was commandeered in 1939 by the Nazis, who turned it into the headquarters for the Nazi Wehrmacht’s chief of staff. The U.S. bought the property in 1948—the year the Communists took over Czechoslovakia—and turned it into the American ambassador’s residence.

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