WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden intends to nominate University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann to be U.S. ambassador to Germany, the White House announced Friday.
The move, which was expected after reports about the coming nomination earlier this week, would make her Biden’s representative to one of America’s most important allies in Europe. Gutmann’s father fled Germany to escape Nazi rule and the Holocaust.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gutmann would be the face of American policy in one of Europe’s most powerful countries — one that Biden may hope to prod into more aggressive leadership on the continent, and in confronting Russia and China, according to foreign affairs experts.
”I cannot overstate what a meaningful and extraordinary honor it is to be nominated by the President for this important position of service to our country,” Gutmann said in a statement. “As the daughter of a German Jewish refugee, as a first-generation college graduate, and as a university leader devoted to advancing constitutional democracy, I am grateful beyond what any words can adequately express to President Biden for the faith he has placed in me to help represent America’s values and interests to one of our closest and most important European allies.”
Gutmann, 71, is Penn’s eighth president, serving as the leader of Philadelphia’s largest employer and one of its most prestigious institutions. She has led the school since 2004 and previously held high-level positions at Princeton University, including provost and dean of the faculty. Her contract at Penn is set to expire next year.
Gutmann and Biden have personal ties.
After his time as vice president, Penn hired him as the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor and created the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which focused on international affairs. He did several on-campus question-and-answer sessions with Gutmann in a job that paid more than $911,000 over roughly 2½ years. Gutmann helped recruit Biden to the school, according to former Gov. Ed Rendell.
Ethics watchdogs and some career foreign service officials have long chafed at the bipartisan tradition of handing out high-profile ambassadorships to donors and other political allies.
People who know Gutmann and Biden have praised her as experienced, skilled, and capable, and said the president values having people he trusts in such positions.
The White House has said about 30% of its ambassador nominations will go to people with political ties, a figure lower than under former President Donald Trump and in line with other recent presidents.
Gutmann is among the earliest of Biden’s ambassador nominations. The majority of ambassador jobs are expected to go to career diplomats.
As she awaits confirmation, Gutmann pledged to be “absolutely energized and engaged” at Penn, and said she has spoken with the school’s Board of Trustees “and we all can rest assured that they are planning for a smooth transition.”
Scott Bok, the chairman of Penn’s Board of Trustees, said they had already begun transition planning, given Gutmann’s intention to step down after June 2022, “and we will provide details on that to the University community in the near future.”
“President Biden has made a brilliant choice in nominating her for this critical role in American foreign policy,” he added. “We wish her great success.”
The White House, in announcing her upcoming nomination, emphasized “her focus on global engagement” at Penn, noting the creation of the school’s Perry World House in Philadelphia, the Penn Wharton China Center in Beijing, and the Biden Center in Washington.
Gutmann, the White House said, is an author and editor of 17 books, “many centered on understanding and defending constitutional democracy and human rights.”
She may not be the only high-profile Philadelphian to represent the administration abroad. Longtime Comcast executive David L. Cohen, a major Biden fund-raiser, is under consideration to be nominated to become ambassador to Canada.