Penn President Amy Gutmann was largely met with praise during her Senate committee hearing for her nomination for the German ambassadorship.
Gutmann's hearing took place Tuesday morning in front of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. While she was celebrated for her work as leader of Philadelphia's largest private employer, Gutmann was also questioned by multiple senators about China’s influence on her potential role as a United States ambassador.
At the start of the hearing, Gutmann was introduced by Senators Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), both of whom endorsed Gutmann’s nomination and spoke highly of her accomplishments and commitment to serving others during her nearly 18-year tenure at the University.
Gutmann, who was officially nominated for the position by President Joe Biden in early July after months of speculation, began her testimony by explaining how her work in education has prepared her for the role and what her plans for the future are if she is to secure the ambassadorship. In her opening statement, she also explained her how her father, who fled Germany at the start of the Holocaust, has impacted her philosophy on leadership and democracy.
“[My father] instilled in me what it means to lead as an American. Never forget, and always stand up against antisemitism, racism, and all forms of hatred, bigotry, and discrimination,” Gutmann said during her testimony.
Shortly afterwards, Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) explained why it is essential for the U.S. to send a confirmed ambassador to Germany as soon as possible in order to rebuild relations with the country.
“It is no secret that U.S.-German relations suffered under the previous administration,” Menendez said during the confirmation hearing. Penn professors previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they are optimistic that Gutmann has the skills to restore good relations with the new German government, and believe that Gutmann’s experience as University president will lend itself to her future position, should she be confirmed.
Germany's previous chancellor, Angela Merkel, and Trump had a tense relationship during his four years in office. Merkel criticized Trump's handling of a range of issues, from immigration policy to the COVID-19 pandemic. During his last months in office, Trump allegedly called Merkel 'stupid' during one phone call.
According to a 2020 Pew Research poll, 79% of Germans viewed their relations with the United States as “bad.”
During the hearing, Gutmann also faced questions regarding Penn's connections with China and how this may impact her decisions as an ambassador.
Though Ranking Committee Member Senator James Risch (R-Idaho.) explained that receiving millions of dollars from foreign entities is not unique to Penn, he asked Gutmann to explain her role in accepting these donations, to which Gutmann responded, "[Penn] gets about one gift every few minutes,” and China’s contributions do not represent a large portion of the donations given to the University.
Risch referenced the U.S. Department of Education's recent report that showed that Penn has received $86 million of donations and contracts from China since 2014.
“The University of Pennsylvania has stood strong against accepting any gifts that would threaten academic freedom or threaten national security,” Gutmann said during her testimony. University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that "[t]he Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity, and that the University has also never solicited any gifts for the Center."
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also questioned Gutmann about China’s influence on Germany and asked her how she planned to encourage Germany to be more engaged on a global scale.
Last month, Rubio, along with Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), sent letters to the leadership of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to express their concerns about Gutmann’s nomination. Due to Biden’s previous role as a Penn presidential professor of practice, they wrote that they worried that Gutmann’s nomination could be viewed as a position granted on the basis of "rewarding a friend."
Gutmann, the University's longest-serving president, is planning to continue in her position until June 30, 2022, as originally planned, or when the Senate confirms her ambassadorship. A Committee vote and confirmation from the full Senate is still needed before her nomination becomes official.
In early November, the U.S. Senate also confirmed the nomination of 1981 Penn Law graduate and former Board of Trustees Chair David Cohen as the ambassador to Canada. Cohen's nomination was met with bipartisan support during his hearing in September.