A Baltimore native and daughter of a once prominent retailer in the city will appear Wednesday before a Senate committee considering her nomination to one of the most plum assignments in the U.S. diplomatic corps: Ambassador to France.
Jamie McCourt — a former co-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers whose father founded the Baltimore-based appliance and electronics chain Luskin's — would head to Paris at a time when U.S.-French relations have been jumbled by the divergent world views embraced by President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
A businesswoman and attorney, McCourt emerged last year as a major Trump supporter, donating more than $400,000 to his campaign. She was among 100 business leaders who signed a letter in October arguing that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton had "thrown in the towel on the idea of strong economic growth."
If confirmed, the 63-year-old Californian would have to navigate between Trump's "America First" approach to foreign policy and Macron's globalist perspective — a split underscored by the French president's criticism of the U.S. decision to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate accord.
On the other hand, Trump and Macron appear to have developed a friendship over a military parade and dinner at the Eiffel Tower during the president's visit to France in July.
"There's a natural kind of tension there," said Erik Jones, director of European and Eurasian studies at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. "Do I think that's going to overwhelm the bonds of friendship between France and the United States? No. But there's some optics that are going to be amusing along the way."
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider McCourt's nomination to serve as ambassador to France and Monaco on Wednesday.
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The White House touted McCourt’s business background when it announced her nomination last month, saying she “possesses a unique global perspective, having lived and worked both domestically and abroad in various industries.”
McCourt was an early investor in the car-sharing company Zipcar as well as Kite Pharma, a pharmaceutical company that is developing a therapy that uses a person’s immune system to fight cancer.
A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Trump initially nominated McCourt to be the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. The administration never explained why it changed her post.
France is one of five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and is a member of the Group of Seven, which includes the industrialized democracies Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Those who know her say McCourt has a passion for French culture, studied at the Sorbonne and speaks French. With a degree in management from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a track record of investing in startups, McCourt also will be able to build a connection between Silicon Valley and France’s technology sector, supporters said.
“They’re trying to make a very startup friendly ecosystem,” said Jonathan Seelig, a veteran tech investor who was a co-founder of the Massachusetts-based internet company Akamai Technologies. “The fact that Jamie’s been active in the startup community in Los Angeles and really across the country I think makes her a very good fit.”
McCourt is the daughter of Jack Luskin, who in 1948 started a Baltimore-based appliance and electronics chain that became a household name in part because of the slogan he used to describe himself: “The Cheapest Guy in Town." The business went bankrupt in 1997 and McCourt’s brothers — Kevin and Cary Luskin — opened the Big Screen Store chain in its place.
After graduating from Pikesville High School, McCourt studied French at Georgetown. It was there that she met her husband, Frank McCourt. The two returned to his native Boston and made a fortune in real estate, part of which they used to buy the Dodgers in 2004.
McCourt was fired by her husband as part of a bitter and public divorce that led to a lawsuit over the team’s ownership. Major League Baseball ultimately seized control of the Dodgers in 2011 and resold the team.
Though she moved out of the city decades ago, McCourt has talked frequently about her childhood in Baltimore, friends and associates said. She drew heavily on her childhood in an address to a local business group in 2008, recalling eating crabs at Obrycki's and taking the bus downtown to shop at the Hecht’s and Hochschild-Kohn department stores.
"God, I love Baltimore," McCourt said at the time. "That's what you do in Baltimore. You grow up in Baltimore. You grow up with family and friends and shared memories.”
Kevin Luskin declined to comment on his sister’s nomination. McCourt did not respond to a request for comment, as is common for nominees awaiting Senate confirmation.
Presidents of both parties nominate campaign donors to ambassadorships, particularly for posh assignments with allies such as France. The job, first held by Benjamin Franklin, includes a residence about a block from the Élysée Palace.
But in part because the appointments tend to come from outside the State Department, little is known about McCourt’s foreign policy positions.
McCourt told the Jewish Journal in a 2009 interview that she grew up in a non-religious Jewish household that was “ardently Zionist.” She described herself as “a proud supporter of Israel and the worldwide Jewish community” on the website of her investment firm, Jamie Enterprises.
In that sense, McCourt’s foreign policy perspective appears to be aligned with the pro-Israel rhetoric Trump espoused on the campaign trail. His administration has so far taken a more traditional U.S. approach to Israel and its Middle East neighbors.
“I’ve always had an attraction to Israel,” McCourt told an English-language news website in Israel last year. “I feel that the personality of Israel suits my personality. It’s the non-sleeping, action at all times, work hard, play hard, love life and you only get one shot at it.”