Biden nominates David Cohen as pick for ambassador to Canada

U.S. 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.

Lawyer and tech executive is also an experienced political adviser

U.S. President Joe Biden is nominating David Cohen — seen here in a 2014 photo — to serve as his ambassador to Canada, according to the White House. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

U.S. 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.

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.

Cohen 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.

No diplomatic experience

A longtime U.S. diplomat and former official in the Obama White House criticized the announcement.

Brett Bruen told CBC News it was disappointing that yet another party donor with no diplomatic experience will represent the U.S. in its important post in Canada.

"Cohen is not the person best equipped to restore Canada's confidence in the United States after four difficult years of Trump," said Bruen, now president of the consulting firm Global Situation Room.

"We need deep diplomatic experience, not deep pockets to navigate through these turbulent times."

Historically, the post frequently went to diplomats. In recent decades, it went to several prominent state-level politicians or governors like Paul Cellucci, James Blanchard and David Wilkins.

The most recent nominations have gone to prominent campaign donors.

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.

With files from CBC's Alexander Panetta and The Associated Press