Most confirmation hearings for ambassador nominees go off without a hitch. But this was not the case with Thomas A. Shannon Jr., President Barack Obama’s choice for ambassador to Brazil.
The veteran diplomat irked Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa when he heard that Shannon, at his July 8, 2009, hearing, implied that the United States might consider dropping its tariff on sugar-based ethanol made in Brazil—a move that would create competition for Iowa-corn-based ethanol made in the U.S.A.
Grassley threatened to hold up Shannon’s confirmation until he received assurances from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trade Representative Ron Kirk that the Obama administration had no intentions of lifting the 54-cent-gallon tariff on Brazilian ethanol, thus freeing the way for Shannon to head off to São Paulo. The Senate did finally confirm Shannon on December 24, 2009 (seven months after President Obama announced his nomination), and he assumed the position of ambassador on January 10, 2010.
Born in 1960, Shannon attended college at William and Mary, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in government and philosophy in 1980. He later earned a master’s (1982) and a doctorate (1983) in politics from Oxford University.
After entering the Foreign Service in 1984, Shannon’s first assignment was as the consular/political rotational officer at the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City, Guatemala from 1984 to 1986. This was followed by work as the country officer for Cameroon, Gabon, and São Tomé and Principe from 1987 to 1989.
In 1989, Shannon received his first assignment to Brazil, serving as special assistant to ambassadors Harry Shlaudeman and Richard Melton at the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia until 1992. Next, he went to South Africa, where he was regional labor attaché at the U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg for four years.
Nineteen ninety-six found Shannon back in South America, working as a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela until 1999. Then, it was back to Washington, DC, to serve as Director for Inter-American Affairs for the National Security Council for one year.
In 2000, he was made U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States, followed by an assignment as Director of Andean Affairs at the State Department (2001-2002), and then as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Western Hemisphere Affairs (2002-2003). He was the chief U.S. negotiator for the 2001 Inter-American Democratic Charter.
Shannon went back to the White House in 2003 to serve as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the National Security Council. Two years later, in November 2005, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, a post he held until becoming ambassador to Brazil.
Shannon speaks Portuguese fluently. He and his wife, Guisela, have two sons. Shannon’s brother, Paul, is an FBI agent who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.