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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

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

Trump impeachment trial to start week of Feb. 8, Schumer says

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Photo: The Washington Post via Getty

The Senate will begin former President Trump's impeachment trial the week of Feb. 8, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Friday on the Senate floor.

The state of play: Schumer announced the schedule after reaching an agreement with Republicans. The House will transmit the article of impeachment against the former president late Monday.

7 hours ago - Health

CDC extends interval between COVID vaccine doses for exceptional cases

Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty

Patients can space out the two doses of the coronavirus vaccine by up to six weeks if it’s "not feasible" to follow the shorter recommended window, according to updated guidance from the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention.

Driving the news: With the prospect of vaccine shortages and a low likelihood that supply will expand before April, the latest changes could provide a path to vaccinate more Americans — a top priority for President Biden.

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