In an interview on Fox News that aired Thursday, host Laura Ingraham questioned President Trump about the number of empty positions at the State Department. Trump defended his lack of action in filling these key roles, saying, "Let me tell you, the one that matters is me. I'm the only one that matters because when it comes to it, that's what the policy is going to be."
It's a curious take, given Trump cannot, of course, run the State Department all by himself. There are currently 74 positions within that department alone for which Trump has nominated no one. With 152 total positions requiring a presidential appointment, Trump has managed to put a name down for just about half the openings.
Trump went on to argue that "Schumer and the Democrats are just obstructing." And he's right that Democratic opposition has kept some of Trump's appointments from earning the congressional thumbs-up necessary to start work on the job. The average wait time for confirmation for Trump's nominees is 63 days, compared to 47 days for President Obama's appointees. Then again, 13 of Trump's nominees have ultimately failed to gain congressional approval altogether, compared to 11 for Obama. That's not much of a discrepancy.
Trump also told Ingraham, "We don’t need all of the people, you know, it’s called cost saving." But many of the positions Trump has left nominee-free are not inconsequential.
Ambassadorships to several Western allies remain vacant, including Australia, Austria, Ireland, South Africa, and Sweden. Perhaps more concerning, ambassador posts in several countries where the United States has more tenuous diplomatic relations are also unfilled. Trump hasn't nominated an ambassador for Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, or Venezuela.
Besides ambassadorships, Trump has lagged in naming nominees for other posts others would deem crucial. No one has been named for the position of director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking. No one has been named for ambassador at-large for war crimes issues. There's no word from Trump on who should be ambassador at-large for global women's issues. There's not even a nominee for chief financial officer of the State Department itself.
Trump indicated he may not ever staff all these openings. "Don't forget, I'm a business person and I tell my people, 'Well, you don't need to fill slots, don't fill them,'" Trump told Ingraham. Which positions Trump meant was left unspecified, but it's conceivable there are roles other administrations would have prioritized that may not matter much in Trump's estimation.
Besides the president's view that he's the "only one that matters," other problems currently plague the State Department. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was prompted last month to publicly address reports he had called Trump a "moron." Notably, Tillerson did not explicitly refute that he had indeed done just that. There were also rumors that Tillerson was on the verge of resigning, speculation he flat-out denied.
But multiple stories of depressed morale among State Department personnel have continued to surface. Tillerson — the head of the department — is the one advocating for massive slashes to his own organization's budget. Empty offices and an uncertain future have jeopardized the mission of bolstering American influence by diplomatic means, according to Ira N. Forman, who served as U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism under President Obama. Tillerson himself wants to cut the department's budget dramatically, from $54.9 billion to $37.6 billion.
When the boss and the boss' boss take such a publicly derisive stance on the efficacy of State Department work, it's little wonder morale among personnel would be depressed.
Of course, Trump likely does not concern himself with such matters. After all, he believes he is the only one that matters.
More to come...