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'Soap Opera' Ambassador's Confirmation Spurs Political Drama

Colleen Bell, a producer for “The Bold and the Beautiful” who donated generously to President Obama’s re-election campaign, is now a U.S. ambassador.

What does $2.1 million and “The Bold and the Beautiful” have to do with diplomatic relations with Hungary?

In a narrow vote Tuesday, the United States Senate confirmed Colleen Bradley Bell as the next ambassador to the European nation – but not until after a scathing Senate floor critique by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who argued that Bell’s qualifications for the job weren’t exactly impeccable.

“I am not against political appointees,” McCain said. “I understand how the game is played, but here we are, a nation that's on the verge of ceding its sovereignty to a neofacist dictator and we're going to send the producer of "The Bold and Beautiful?” I urge my colleagues to stop this foolishness.”

Bell, a television producer for the long-running soap opera, notably bundled an estimated $2.1 million for President Barack Obama’s reelection race, according to a 2012 review by the New York Times. Another appointee confirmed Tuesday, Noah Bryson Mamet, raised about $1.4 million for Obama but admitted that he’s never visited Argentina, where he’ll serve as ambassador.

Asked why the president has confidence in Bell’s ability to serve in the job, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday that she “has had her own distinguished private sector career” and that she “obviously has succeeded in the business world.”

Awarding big donors with ambassadorships is far from unusual. Plum posts – like those in Western Europe and the Caribbean -- have frequently gone to campaign moneymakers or presidential friends. To name only a few: President George W. Bush named a Yale fraternity brother for a diplomatic post in Sweden; President Bill Clinton picked former Washington football linebacker Sidney Williams – who told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that football helped him develop “strategic thinking and negotiating skills” -- for the Bahamas.

According to the American Foreign Service Association, which tracks diplomatic nominations, 35 percent of Obama’s ambassadorial appointments while in office have been “political” picks, versus 65 percent of nominees from foreign service career backgrounds. (In his second term only, over 40 percent of his picks have been political in nature.)

Compare that to data from past administrations: Thirty-eight percent of Ronald Reagan’s appointments throughout his presidency were political, per AFSA, as were 31 percent of George H.W. Bush’s, 28 percent of Bill Clinton’s and 30 percent of George W. Bush’s.

Bell’s nomination is picking up additional steam because of her stumbling responses to basic questions during her confirmation hearing in January.

Asked by McCain to enumerate America’s strategic interests in Hungary, Bell offered this reply: “Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies, to work to promote and protect the security, both - for both countries and for - and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years."

To which McCain responded with trademark sarcasm: “Great answer.”