WASHINGTON — David L. Cohen, a decades-long fixture in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania’s political, civic and business circles, won bipartisan praise Wednesday during a Senate committee hearing on his nomination to become the U.S. ambassador to Canada.
Both of Pennsylvania’s senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, introduced and advocated for Cohen, a longtime Comcast executive with an even longer history at the top levels of city and state politics.
“I’ve known David for more than a quarter of a century,” said Casey, one of multiple senators who said they personally know Cohen, long the face of Comcast’s government affairs operations. “David understands the commitment you’ve got to make to be a public servant. And I think he’s demonstrated that over and over again.”
Toomey read aloud a description of Cohen from Buzz Bissinger’s book A Prayer for the City and said: “There’s a word for this kind of quiet, thoughtful, persistent approach to getting things done. It’s called diplomacy.”
Cohen was one of President Joe Biden’s top campaign fund-raisers, and personally hosted the president’s first formal event when he launched his 2020 campaign. In July, Biden nominated Cohen to become the voice of the administration with one of America’s closest allies.
“Canada is one of our most important allies, and a partner for our economic prosperity and our national security,” Cohen told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
America and Canada share the largest land border in the world and Canada is one of the United States’ largest trading partners.
Trade between the countries nears $1.7 billion a day, and Canada is the top export market for more than 30 states, Cohen told the Senate committee. Maintaining that economic relationship was at the top of his priorities, he said. Others included easing border restrictions imposed during the pandemic, cooperatively managing shared watersheds, and emphasizing joint priorities on defense and climate change.
While Canada is hardly a political flashpoint, senators did express concerns on several issues. Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the committee’s chair, said he hoped the country would be “more outspoken” on human rights, particularly when it comes to China and Cuba.
The panel’s top Republican, Sen. James Risch (R., Idaho), urged progress on revising a treaty governing the Columbia River, a key topic for northwestern states. Others pressed for loosening border restrictions and some Democrats said Cohen would have to repair a relationship frayed by former President Donald Trump’s tariffs.
Cohen first rose to prominence as chief of staff to then-Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, and became a top player in Pennsylvania’s legal, political, and philanthropic worlds. He has long raised money for Democrats, though he also did so for Toomey. Until recently Cohen was chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s board of trustees, and he’s been leading Philadelphia’s bid to be a host city for the 2026 World Cup.
A committee vote and full Senate confirmation on Cohen’s nomination is still pending.
University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann has also been nominated for a top diplomatic role, as ambassador to Germany. The Senate has not yet scheduled a hearing on her nomination.