Torsella nominated for U.N. post, but could face Sestak-like blowback

Joe Torsella was named Monday by President Obama to a top post at the United Nations.
Joe Torsella was named Monday by President Obama to a top post at the United Nations.
Posted: November 17, 2010

President Obama on Monday named Joe Torsella to a top post at the United Nations in a move that could raise questions among Republicans who take control of the U.S. House in January.

Torsella, 47, chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Education since 2008, was nominated to be the U.S. representative for U.N. Management and Reform. He served twice as president of the National Constitution Center and was deputy mayor for policy and planning when Gov. Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia.

Torsella's nomination is likely to spark comparisons to the controversy about a post that the White House offered earlier this year to U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak.

Sestak said that he had been offered a job in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic primary race against U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. Torsella had previously announced a run for the Democratic nomination but dropped out after Specter left the GOP.

Torsella and the U.S. mission to the U.N. declined to comment yesterday on his nomination.

Torsella's appointment must be confirmed, first in a hearing of the U.S. Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, then by the full Senate. He will see a familiar face during his confirmation hearing: Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Casey yesterday praised Torsella's work for the city and state, and predicted "a swift Senate confirmation."

Specter said yesterday that Torsella's "academic qualifications and professional credentials make him an excellent addition to this administration." Specter vowed to help Torsella reach confirmation.

Torsella, who lives in Flourtown, spent three months last year in the race for Specter's Senate seat. He dropped out when Specter, at the urging of Rendell and Obama, joined the Democratic Party.

Sestak entered the race against Specter two weeks after Torsella withdrew in May 2009.

Republicans assailed Sestak during the primary and general elections after he said that former President Bill Clinton, acting on behalf of the White House, tried to lure him out of the race against Specter with a job offer.

The White House Counsel's Office on May 28 explained that Clinton had offered Sestak an unpaid post on an intelligence advisory board if he would drop his Senate bid and remain in the U.S. House.

Specter lost the May 18 Democratic primary to Sestak, who then lost the Nov. 2 general election to Republican former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey.

Gary Tuma, Rendell's spokesman, said in September that the governor had "recommended Joe to the White House for a number of positions" after Torsella dropped out of the Senate race.

Tuma yesterday said that Rendell had recommended Torsella for the U.N. job.

In college Torsella befriended Susan Rice, now the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. They were Rhodes Scholars at Oxford University, in England, in 1986.

Rice donated $1,608 to Torsella's Senate campaign, receiving a refund after he dropped out.

Republicans, especially U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, of California, may raise questions about Torsella's appointment.

Issa, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, repeatedly questioned whether the Obama administration had broken federal law in the Sestak offer.

A spokesman for Issa declined to comment yesterday.

Issa has said that he wants to hold more hearings on the actions of the Obama administration when his political party takes control of the House in January.

Torsella replaces Ambassador Joseph Melrose Jr., a three-decade veteran of the foreign service, who served as ambassador to Sierra Leone and is now the acting U.S. representative for U.N. Management and Reform.

Melrose, who served in Vietnam, Syria, Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya, is also a professor at Ursinus College, in Collegeville.

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