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John H. Sununu

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John H. Sununu
Official N.H. gubernatorial oil painting portrait by artist Richard Whitney
Chair of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee
In office
January 17, 2009 – January 22, 2011
Preceded byFergus Cullen
Succeeded byJack Kimball
14th White House Chief of Staff
In office
January 20, 1989 – December 15, 1991
PresidentGeorge H. W. Bush
DeputyAndrew Card
Preceded byKen Duberstein
Succeeded bySamuel K. Skinner
75th Governor of New Hampshire
In office
January 6, 1983 – January 4, 1989
Preceded byVesta M. Roy (acting)
Succeeded byJudd Gregg
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
July 28, 1987 – August 9, 1988
Preceded byBill Clinton
Succeeded byGerald Baliles
Member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives
from the 5th Rockingham district
In office
Preceded byMulti-member district
Succeeded byMulti-member district
Personal details
John Henry Sununu

(1939-07-02) July 2, 1939 (age 85)
Havana, Cuba
Political partyRepublican
SpouseNancy Hayes
Children8, including John and Chris
EducationMassachusetts Institute of Technology (BS, MS, PhD)
Scientific career
FieldsMechanical engineering
InstitutionsTufts University
ThesisFlow of a High Temperature, Variable Viscosity Fluid at Low Reynolds Number (1966)

John Henry Sununu[a] (born July 2, 1939) is an American politician who served as the 75th governor of New Hampshire from 1983 to 1989 and the fourteenth White House chief of staff under President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1991.

Born in Cuba to an American father and a Salvadoran mother, he is of Greek, Hispanic, and Lebanese descent, making him the first Arab American, Greek American, and Hispanic American to be governor of New Hampshire and White House chief of staff. He is the father of John E. Sununu, the former United States Senator from New Hampshire, and Christopher Sununu, the current governor of New Hampshire. Sununu was the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2009 to 2011.

Early life and education[edit]

Sununu was born in Havana, Cuba, while his parents were visiting Cuba on a business trip.[1] He is the son of John Saleh Sununu, an international film distributor, and Victoria Sununu (née Dada).[2] His father's family came to the United States from Lebanon, as Greek Orthodox Christians at the turn of the 20th century and his ancestry was Greek and Lebanese from Jerusalem and Beirut respectively.[3] John Saleh Sununu was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother Victoria Dada was born in El Salvador. Her family were also Greek Orthodox Christians, of Greek and Hispanic ancestry, and had settled in Central America at the turn of the 20th century.[4][5] Sununu visited Beirut, Lebanon, as a child in the late 1940s. He grew up in New York City[5] and graduated from the La Salle Military Academy on Long Island.[6]

Sununu earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1961, a Master of Science degree in 1963, and a PhD in 1966 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all in mechanical engineering.[7][8] He was a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.


From 1966 to 1982 he taught at Tufts University, where he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering. He was the associate dean of the university's College of Engineering from 1968 to 1973.[8] As of 1988, Sununu retained his title and family tuition benefits from Tufts during an "extremely rare" unpaid six-year leave of absence that coincided with his governorship.[9] He was on the Advisory Board of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT from 1984 until 1989.[8]

A Republican, Sununu represented the 5th Rockingham district in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1973 to 1975.[10][11] Sununu ran for the New Hampshire Senate in 1974 and 1976, but lost the general election both times to Delbert F. Downing.[11] He ran for the Executive Council of New Hampshire in 1978, but lost the general election to Dudley Dudley.[12] He ran for the United States Senate in 1980, but lost the Republican primary to Warren Rudman.[13]


Sununu became New Hampshire's 75th Governor on January 6, 1983, and was re-elected twice to hold the position for three consecutive terms. He was the first Arab-American Governor of New Hampshire. Sununu was chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, the Republican Governors Association and, in 1987, the National Governors Association.

Sununu angered some when he was the only governor of a U.S. state not to call for repeal of the UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 ("Zionism is racism"). He later reversed his position on this issue and supported the Republicans' pro-Israel 1988 platform.[14]

White House chief of staff[edit]

Sununu was the first White House chief of staff for George H. W. Bush, holding the position from 1989 to 1991. Time magazine dubbed him "Bush's Bad Cop" on the front cover on May 21, 1990.[15]

Sununu is considered to have engineered Bush's mid-term abandonment of his 1988 campaign promise of "no new taxes".[16] In his report Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change, Nathaniel Rich wrote that in November 1989 Sununu prevented the signing of a 67-nation commitment at the Noordwijk Climate Conference to freeze carbon dioxide emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005, and singled him out as a force starting coordinated efforts to bewilder the public on the topic of global warming and changing it from an urgent, nonpartisan and unimpeachable issue to a political one.[17] Interviewed as to his involvement in preventing an agreement, he stated: "It couldn't have happened, because, frankly, the leaders in the world at that time were at a stage where they were all looking how to seem like they were supporting the policy without having to make hard commitments that would cost their nations serious resources. Frankly, that's about where we are today."[18]

Sununu recommended David Souter of New Hampshire to President George H. W. Bush for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, at the behest of his close friend, then-U.S. Senator and fellow New Hampshirite Warren Rudman. The Wall Street Journal described the events leading up to the appointment of the "liberal jurist" in a 2000 editorial, saying Rudman in his "Yankee Republican liberalism" took "pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House chief of staff John Sununu as a confirmable conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle [after Robert Bork]."[19] Rudman wrote in his memoir that he had "suspected all along" that Souter would not "overturn activist liberal precedents."[20] Sununu later said that he had "a lot of disappointment" about Souter's positions on the Court and would have preferred him to be more similar to Justice Antonin Scalia.[20]

President Bush speaks on the telephone regarding Operation Just Cause with Sununu and Brent Scowcroft, 1989.

At the recommendation of George W. Bush,[21] Sununu resigned his White House post on December 4, 1991.[22][23] He remained at the White House as Counselor to the President until March 1, 1992.[24]

USS Liberty veterans reunion[edit]

On the 24th anniversary of the USS Liberty incident (in 1991), approximately 50 Liberty survivors, including Captain William McGonagle, were invited to the White House to meet with President George H.W. Bush in a meeting set up by former Congressmen Paul Findley and Pete McCloskey.[25][26] After waiting for over 2 hours, President Bush waved at them as he passed by in his limousine, but did not meet with them in person.[25][27] Many of the survivors were reportedly disheartened and disappointed with this.[28] Instead, Sununu and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft greeted them.[25][29][30] Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, who had spoken out in favor of Liberty survivors previously, presented them with a Presidential Unit Citation that had been signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson but never awarded.[25][31] Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, a longtime Liberty advocate, was also in attendance.[32][33] This meeting was objected to by the Anti-Defamation League.[34][35]

Conflict-zone mining[edit]

Sununu is a major shareholder of the Anglo-Asian mining company (holding 9.38%) which stands to profit after Azerbaijan military victories over Nagorno-Karabakh.[36]

Expenses controversy[edit]

As White House chief of staff, Sununu reportedly took personal trips, for skiing and other purposes, and classified them as official, for purposes such as conservation or promoting the Thousand Points of Light.[37] The Washington Post wrote that Sununu's jets "took him to fat-cat Republican fund-raisers, ski lodges, golf resorts and even his dentist in Boston."[37] Sununu had paid the government only $892 for his more than $615,000 worth of military jet travel.[38] Sununu said that his use of the jets was necessary because he had to be near a telephone at all times for reasons of national security.[39] Sununu became the subject of much late-night television humor over the incident.[37] Sununu worsened the situation shortly afterwards when, after leaking rumors of financial difficulties in his family, he traveled to a rare stamp auction at Christie's auction house in New York City from Washington in a government limousine, spending $5,000 on rare stamps.[40] Sununu then sent the car and driver back to Washington unoccupied while he returned on a corporate jet.[40] In one week, 45 newspapers ran editorials on Sununu, nearly all of them critical of his actions.[41] Sununu resigned his White House post on December 4, 1991. Sununu repaid over $47,000 to the government for the flights on the orders of White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, with the help of the Republican Party.[42] However, the reimbursements were at commercial rates, which are about one-tenth the cost of the actual flights; one ski trip to Vail, Colorado alone had cost taxpayers $86,330.[43]

Other activities[edit]

Sununu at the January 23, 2016, First in the Nation Town Hall in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Sununu co-hosted CNN's nightly Crossfire from March 1992 until February 1998.[8]

From 1963 until 1983, he was President of JHS Engineering Company and Thermal Research Inc.[8] In addition, he helped establish and worked as chief engineer for Astro Dynamics Inc. from 1960 until 1965.[44]

In 2012, Sununu as a national co-chair for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign made controversial comments directed towards then President Barack Obama calling Obama "un-American". After receiving backlash for the comment, Sununu apologized soon afterwards.[45] A few months later, Sununu again caused controversy for the Romney campaign when he said that the reason he believed former Secretary of State, Colin Powell (a Republican) endorsed President Obama over Romney was because both Powell and Obama are the same race.[46] After the election, Sununu blamed Romney's loss to Obama on Obama's supporters being "dependent" on government programs.[47]

Sununu is President of JHS Associates, Ltd. and is a partner in Trinity International Partners, a private financial firm. He is also a member of Honorary Council of Advisors for U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC).[48]

Awards and honors[edit]

He was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1990 for exceptionally significant creativity in energy systems development, in engineering education, and in integration of technological advances with public policy.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Sununu in 2015

Sununu is married to Nancy Hayes, and they have eight children, including former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu and Chris Sununu, formerly a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council and currently the Governor of New Hampshire. In recent years, he moved from Salem, New Hampshire to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire to be closer to relatives. He and his wife were subsequently elected as the town's honorary hog reeves and poundkeepers.[49] The title is usually given to an unsuspecting newcomer each year.

Sununu's daughter Cathy is the president of the Portsmouth Museum of Art in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.[50]

Sununu is a fluent Spanish speaker.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

In the 1991 police comedy film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear, Sununu is played by Peter Van Norden.[51]

In January 1995, John Sununu made a cameo appearance on the first episode of the Delta Burke CBS sitcom, Women of the House, titled "Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington". In the episode, Suzanne Sugarbaker is a guest on the CNN political program, Crossfire. Michael Kinsley also appears.

In the 1996 film Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, a clip (from This Island Earth) of a jet plane prompts Tom Servo to quip, "John Sununu goes for a haircut." The joke was a recurring one on the original series, as well.

In the 1996 episode of Space Ghost Coast to Coast. "Glen Campbell," Matt Groening mentions he makes it a point to watch shows that having rhyming titles, and after several real show titles, he mentions "Yoo-Hoo, It's John Sununu."

Political endorsements[edit]

After the first presidential debate of 2016, Sununu endorsed Donald Trump for President of the United States.[52]

In early January 2024, Sununu endorsed Nikki Haley for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.[53]


  1. ^ He was known simply as John Sununu during his political career, which preceded those of his sons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Apple, R. W. Jr. (September 13, 1989). "Washington at Work; Emotions in Check, Intellect Not, Sununu Wins Reluctant Respect in Capital - The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  2. ^ 1
  3. ^ McDannald, Alexander Hopkins (1991). The Americana Annual: An Encyclopedia of Current Events. Americana Corporation. p. 156. John Henry Sununu was born on July 2, 1939, in Havana, Cuba, while his parents were on a business trip. His father was descended from Lebanese and Greek immigrants...
  4. ^ Hoffman, David (November 20, 1988). "Sununu Describes his Diverse Roots, After Flood of Inquiries". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 19, 2022. His maternal grandmother, Sununu said, was Greek; his mother, Victoria Dada, was born in El Salvador. That part of his family "makes me part Greek American and part Hispanic American," he said. "It's a varied heritage, and I'm proud of it."
  5. ^ a b c "Behind the Sununu Surname". The New York Times. November 21, 1988. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  6. ^ "Sununu Known for Delight in Exerting Power". Los Angeles Times. November 18, 1988.
  7. ^ Sununu, John Henry (1966). Flow of a High Temperature, Variable Viscosity Fluid at Low Reynolds Number (Ph.D. thesis). Massachusetts Institute of Technology. OCLC 25526797. ProQuest 302229991.
  8. ^ a b c d e "New Hampshire Governor John H. Sununu". National Governors Association. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  9. ^ AP (November 28, 1988). "Sununu Keeps Link to Tufts 6 Years After Quitting Faculty - The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  10. ^ Pichirallo, Joe; Rezendes, Michael (March 12, 1989). "The Forceful Style of John Sununu". The Washington Post. Retrieved September 21, 2015.
  11. ^ a b "John H. Sununu". NH Elections Database. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  12. ^ "Our Campaigns - NH Executive Council - District 3 Race - Nov 07, 1978".
  13. ^ "Our Campaigns - NH US Senate - R Primary Race - Sep 09, 1980".
  14. ^ Duffy, Michael; Goodgame, Dan (November 28, 1988). "The Markets Vote". TIME. Archived from the original on October 20, 2008.
  15. ^ "Bush's Bad Cop"
  16. ^ York, Byron (December 10, 2011). "Read-my-lips feud returns in Romney-Gingrich fight". washingtonexaminer.com. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Rich, Nathaniel (August 5, 2018). "Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change". The New York Times Magazine. pp. 4–. ISSN 0028-7822. Archived from the original on January 15, 2022.
  18. ^ "Editorial: A chilling story about climate change". Concord Monitor. August 26, 2018. Retrieved January 16, 2020.
  19. ^ "Chief Justice Souter?". Wall Street Journal. February 29, 2000.
  20. ^ a b Tinsley E. Yarbrough (2005). "David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court". Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195347906. Retrieved June 27, 2008.
  21. ^ Bush, George W. (2010). Decision Points. Crown. pp. 81–82. ISBN 978-0-307-59061-9.
  22. ^ NY Times (xx 1991) "Sununu as Symbol; Departure of Embattled Chief of Staff Removes Convenient Target of Critics"
  23. ^ Rosenthal, Andrew (December 4, 1991). "SUNUNU RESIGNS UNDER FIRE AS CHIEF AIDE TO PRESIDENT; CITES FEAR OF HURTING BUSH". www.nytimes.com. Retrieved August 6, 2012.
  25. ^ a b c d McAllister, Bill (June 15, 1991). "SPY SHIP BROUGHT IN FROM THE COLD". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 28, 2023.
  26. ^ https://www.usslibertyveterans.org/pdfs/LVANewsletter2017-04.pdf
  27. ^ https://www.usslibertyveterans.org/pdfs/LVANewsletter2017-04.pdf
  28. ^ https://www.usslibertyveterans.org/pdfs/LVANewsletter2017-04.pdf
  29. ^ https://www.usslibertyveterans.org/pdfs/LVANewsletter2017-04.pdf
  30. ^ https://www.wrmea.org/1992-june/israel-s-attack-on-the-uss-liberty-cracks-in-the-25-year-cover-up.html
  31. ^ https://www.wrmea.org/1992-june/israel-s-attack-on-the-uss-liberty-cracks-in-the-25-year-cover-up.html
  32. ^ "SPY SHIP BROUGHT IN FROM THE COLD". Washington Post. February 28, 2024. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved April 19, 2024.
  33. ^ https://www.wrmea.org/1992-june/israel-s-attack-on-the-uss-liberty-cracks-in-the-25-year-cover-up.html
  34. ^ "Questions Surround Ceremony for Survivors of Uss Liberty". March 20, 2015.
  35. ^ "Sununu and the Jews". Newsweek. July 7, 1991.
  36. ^ "Mining Company With Ties To Sununu Family Poised To Profit After Peace Deal". New Hampshire Public Radio. November 10, 2020. Retrieved April 19, 2024.
  37. ^ a b c "Air Sununu Grounded". The Washington Post. May 10, 1991.
  38. ^ "The control tower takes over Air Sununu". U.S. News & World Report. May 20, 1991.
  39. ^ Rosenthal, Andrew (April 23, 1991). "Sununu Travel Records to Be Opened". The New York Times. Retrieved November 22, 2012.
  40. ^ a b Duffy, Michael (July 1, 1991). "The White House: A Bad Case of the Perks". Time. Archived from the original on January 27, 2008. Retrieved November 22, 2012.
  41. ^ "Too Much Sununu News?; Post Said to Ignore Democrats' Abuses". The Washington Post. June 28, 1991.
  42. ^ "My so-called famous classmate". Salon. June 1, 2004. Retrieved November 22, 2012.
  43. ^ "The flights of Air Sununu; the White House chief of staff mixed politics and playtime on some of his 'official' trips. (John Sununu)". U.S. News & World Report. May 6, 1991.
  44. ^ "Sununu Known for Delight in Exerting Power". Los Angeles Times. November 18, 1988. Retrieved September 6, 2019.
  45. ^ "Sununu calls Obama un-American, then backtracks". CBS News. July 17, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  46. ^ "Romney surrogate Gov. John Sununu suggests Colin Powell's Obama endorsement was race-based". New York Daily News. October 26, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  47. ^ "Sununu: Obama base gets handouts". Politico. December 5, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2022.
  48. ^ "USACC. Brent Scowcroft". Archived from the original on April 11, 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  49. ^ Morse, Susan. "From governor to hog reeve". Portsmouth Herald. March 25, 2007
  50. ^ McQuaid, Cate (July 2, 2010). "On the waterfront New Hampshire museum's dazzling if uneven exhibit is a sprawling take on contemporary art, 'At the Edge'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved July 2, 2010.
  51. ^ The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear at IMDb Edit this at Wikidata
  52. ^ "Trump Picks up Endorsement of Former Bush Chief of Staff Following Debate | the Sean Hannity Show". Archived from the original on October 1, 2016. Retrieved September 27, 2016.
  53. ^ Lips, Evan (January 3, 2024). "Bigger Crowds, New Endorsements as Haley Returns to NH". NH Journal. Retrieved January 15, 2024.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of New Hampshire
1982, 1984, 1986
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Republican Governors Association
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Fergus Cullen
Chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party
Succeeded by
Jack Kimbal
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of New Hampshire
Succeeded by
Judd Gregg
Preceded by Chair of the National Governors Association
Succeeded by
Preceded by White House Chief of Staff
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senator Order of precedence of the United States
Within New Hampshire
Succeeded byas Former Governor
Preceded byas Former Governor Order of precedence of the United States
Outside New Hampshire