Mar 10, 2017

Tillerson struggles to take control

Alex Brandon / AP

Rex Tillerson has lunch with President Trump today at the White House. The Secretary of State and the President should have plenty to talk about given the widespread concerns in Washington's foreign policy community about whether this Administration takes the State Department seriously.

What Tillerson is dealing with:

  • Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who many foreign leaders and diplomats now see as the real power center inside the Administration. In some cases, these diplomats are bypassing the State Department altogether.
  • The latest example, per the LA Times: "Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray met at the White House with President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner, along with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Gary Cohn, a top financial aide, the Mexican government announced...Striking in its absence from that announcement was any mention of a meeting with officials from the State Department."
  • China is a big concern. A well-placed source tells us "the Chinese ambassador frequently interacts with Kushner but is AWOL at State." We asked the State Department and Trump Administration for comment but neither responded.
  • Tillerson also has to deal with Trump's major planned budget cuts to the State Department. Nobody on the Hill thinks these cuts will get through the Senate — hawks like Lindsey Graham make them dead on arrival — but they're a clear signal of the Administration's priorities. Trump reveres the military, but has shown no signs that he values the foreign service.

Why this matters: Diplomacy is an often-overlooked, frequently under-funded part of the national security equation. But folks like Defense Secretary Mattis appreciate the value of soft power. He once told a congressional committee:

If you cut the State Department's budget, then you need to buy me more bullets.

Ironically, State Department officials are now placing more faith in Mattis than Tillerson when it comes to persuading the President of their value, says a former official who is well-connected in the department.

Go deeper

Atlanta mayor on Trump's riot response: "He speaks and he makes it worse"

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms responded on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday to President Trump's tweets and comments about the mass protests that have swept across the United States, urging him to "just stop talking."

What she's saying: "This is like Charlottesville all over again. He speaks and he makes it worse. There are times when you should just be quiet. And I wish that he would just be quiet."

Black Americans' competing crises

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

For many black Americans, this moment feels like a crisis within a crisis within a crisis.

The big picture: It's not just George Floyd's killing by police. Or the deaths of EMT Breonna Taylor and jogger Ahmaud Arbery. Or the demeaning of birdwatcher Christian Cooper and journalist Omar Jimenez. Or the coronavirus pandemic's disproportionate harm to African Americans. It's that it's all happening at once.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Amnesty International: U.S. police must end militarized response to protests

Washington State Police use tear gas to disperse a crowd in Seattle during a demonstration protesting the death of George Floyd. Photo: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images

Amnesty International issued a statement on Sunday morning calling for an end to militarized policing in several U.S. cities and the use of "excessive force" against demonstrators protesting police brutality.

Why it matters: The human rights group said police across the country were "failing their obligations under international law to respect and facilitate the right to peaceful protest, exacerbating a tense situation and endangering the lives of protesters."