Jan 11, 2019 - Politics & Policy

Every U.S. ambassador flying to D.C. conference despite shutdown

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo smiles at the State Department

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department is flying every U.S. ambassador from around the world to Washington next week, regardless of whether the government remains shut down, according to two internal emails leaked to Axios.

Why it matters: The State Department has been under financial strain during the shutdown, with employees on unpaid furlough and some resources halted.

Bloomberg first reported that the conference is still scheduled to go ahead.

The organizers of the global Chiefs of Missions (COM) conference — held from Jan. 16–17 — conceded in their internal email that “under the current circumstances” meetings with members of Congress “cannot be guaranteed.”

Between the lines: A State Department spokesman told me they’re persisting with the conference for national security reasons.

  • But a former senior State Department official told Axios that, while COM “is a good convening to get everyone on the same page and build morale and relationships within the department … it’s absurd to argue a COM is crucial to our safety and security. That does not pass the laugh test.”
  • A second former senior State Department official told Axios that when the government shut down in 2013 the department was forced to postpone an important conference for its Public Affairs Officers until after a spending bill was passed.
  • Meanwhile, President Trump announced yesterday that he’s canceling his planned trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos as a result of the shutdown. He was scheduled to leave Jan. 21 — 10 days from now.

Details: The annual COM conference was launched in 2011 under the Obama administration to convene all U.S. ambassadors in one place and give them an opportunity to meet with key government officials in Washington.

  • According to the email, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will host a closing lunch for the group on Thursday. President Trump is not scheduled to meet with the diplomats.
  • The department told ambassadors that “the conference is mandatory,” and that they are allowed to be absent from their posts from January 14–20 in order to attend.
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