Months of careful vetting of his financial life – not the long-expected decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline – delayed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Bruce Heyman as the next U.S. ambassador to Canada, according to sources familiar with the process.
Given Wall Street’s badly-tarnished reputation and with Senate Republicans on confirmation committees hunting for any hint of financial irregularities, the vetting process of big-league wealth advisors and bankers picked for political appointments has become intense, the sources said.
Mr. Heyman, a Chicago-based senior executive with Goldman Sachs, the international banking and securities firm, was first touted as the next American envoy to Ottawa last spring. He has been a major fundraiser for Mr. Obama and a guest at the White House with close connections to the president’s inner political circle.
As with many key diplomatic appointments, his access to the president may be more important than his scant experience in international affairs.
The nomination must still be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, a process that could take weeks or months, especially given the poisoned and paralyzed partisan standoffs in Washington over everything from funding Obamacare to confirming routine judicial appointments.
Mr. Heyman hasn’t commented publicly on his nomination but can expect to face tough questioning; both on his own financial career and holdings as well as a range of bilateral issues – including Keystone XL.
"I am proud that such experienced and committed individuals have agreed to serve the American people in these important roles,” the president said in a statement confirming his nomination of Mr. Heyman and several others.
In Ottawa, a spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper welcomed the choice.
“We look forward to working with Ambassador-designate Heyman to continue to build on the strong relationship with the Obama Administration and advance shared priorities, including the creation of jobs and increased trade on both sides of the border,” Stephen Lecce said in an e-mail.
Speculation that Mr. Obama was delaying the ambassadorial nomination until after the Keystone XL decision was swirled in Ottawa and Washington over the summer but several people familiar with the issue said the pipeline ruling – now not expected for months and perhaps not until next year – wasn’t linked to the perceived delay in Mr. Heyman’s nomination.
Instead, the careful vetting was releated to Mr. Heyman’s role at Goldman Sachs and his handling of an array of high net-worth clients in Canada and the United States.
Goldman Sachs provided some additional biographical details about Mr. Heyman, among them that the ambassador-designate is on the board of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Foundation.
There was no hesitation about the welcome from Ottawa.
Nations with close relationships – like Canada and the United States – informally float ambassadorial appointments and Canadian and U.S. officials have confirmed that Mr. Heyman got the green light from Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s office last spring.
The U.S. embassy in Ottawa is currently headed by career diplomat Richard Sanders but the ambassadorial position is – as is common in many U.S. embassies – usually held by a political appointee, such as David Jacobsen, another big fundraiser from Chicago, who has just completed a four-year stint as Mr. Obama’s envoy.
Mr. Heyman has been a long-time supporter of Mr. Obama, who entered national politics from a Chicago base. The Goldman Sachs executive is a key member of “Obama’s Chicago political family” according to someone who has him for years.
By the time Bruce and Vicki Heyman were among an exclusive group of powerful and politically well-connected guests at a glittering White House State dinner hosted by Barack and Michelle Obama for visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel two years ago, they had been a ‘political’ couple for three decades.
“Our first date was Lamar Alexander’s governor’s ball,” Mr. Heyman recalled for his university’s alumni magazine, referring to the former Republican governor of Tennessee. The Heymans met as graduate business students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in the late 1970s.
But it was as Democrats, not Republicans that the Heymans emerged as a potent political pair. Mrs. Heyman helped run the president’s 2012 re-election campaign and they were major contributors.
If Mr. Heyman is headed to Ottawa as America’s top diplomat in the capital of its largest trading partner, it won’t be his first involvement with Canadians.
In a Chicago Tribune interview four years ago, he described how he ended up running the Goldman Sachs private wealth management group covering a big chunk of the United States and Canada.
The Heymans now have three adult children; a son David and two daughters, Liza and Caroline.
Maryscott Greenwood, of the Canadian American Business Council, flatly rejected the premise that there was an unusually long delay in nominating a replacement for Jacobson.
She called Heyman’s appointment “an inspired choice on the part of the president.”
Heyman, she added, has the ability to “take the ball and continue to advance the interests of our two countries at a crucial time.”
With files from The Canadian Press