The secretary repeats his vow to restore workforce “swagger,” and counter Russian election interference.
After just three weeks in office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday distanced himself from some cuts in the Trump administration’s proposed $39 billion budget for the department in fiscal 2019, telling senators “we’re going to get the resources we need” when fiscal 2020 comes around.
In a Foreign Relations Committee hearing dominated by President Trump’s surprise cancellation of the June 12 summit with the leader of North Korea, Pompeo provided written testimony that stressed “our obligation to use taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively” while pressuring other nations to step up their financial contributions.
But when Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed disappointment in the budget’s 30 percent cuts to State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, Pompeo said he “can only speak to what I will endeavor to do” for every region in the world. According to his testimony, Pompeo’s “great goal is to restore the trademark State Department swagger that has been instrumental in advancing American security, prosperity, and liberty for centuries.”
But ranking member Robert Menendez, D-N.J., told Pompeo the administration’s budget proposal is “stunningly irresponsible” and “runs counter to what you said in your confirmation hearing.” Though the secretary had “inherited plummeting morale and a hollowed-out” career diplomatic staff, Menendez commended him for lifting the hiring freeze, even though some bureaus are still not hiring, the senator said.
“Our bureaus still have a little guidance to issue,” Pompeo said, acknowledging “a big gap at the associate secretary level and the undersecretary level.” But his team has created “end-strength goals” in hiring, and “where demand says we need additional talent,” employees at State are being empowered.
Recent actions, such as reinstating the department’s Eligible Family Member hiring program, will help “get our team on the field.” He added, “I know that our career professionals work best when the goals are clear and the leadership team is at full strength.”
Pompeo highlighted a $20 million increase, totaling $55.4 million requested, for the Global Engagement Center set up in March 2016 to counter extremists’ propaganda and disinformation. “We will not tolerate Russian interference in the 2018 elections, and we must take countermeasures in response,” he said.
Pompeo expects to hire 13 full-time career staff, but asked “for a little forbearance” and more time while he settles in at State following a year at the CIA. “I don’t think [the Global Engagement Center] has been well coordinated,” he said, mentioning that it overlaps with four bureaus and two secretariats and dovetails with the agenda of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Asked by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., about the transnational refugee crisis originating in the South Sudan, Pompeo said he would consider Booker’s suggestion that a special envoy might be needed, but added, “We may need to rethink our approach.”
Many senators were critical of Trump and Pompeo’s handling of the widely publicized but apparently dead summit aimed at denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
But the most sparks flew when Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., picked up the discussion of Trump’s recent zigzags on U.S. sanctions on the Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE, considered a security threat until Trump suggested easing up to help the company protect its jobs. “Given that he hasn’t released his tax returns, how can you assure the American public that his foreign policy is free of his personal conflicts of interest?” Udall asked.
“I find that question bizarre,” Pompeo said. “I’ve been incredibly involved in this administration’s foreign policy for some 16 months now, and I have seen literally no evidence of what you are scurrilously suggesting. It is an outrageous suggestion.”