Politics

Pompeo Vows ‘Tough Diplomacy,’ Return of State’s ‘Swagger’

Trump cryptically touts U.S. activities that are ‘not even a glimmer in your eye’

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., right, meets with Mike Pompeo in the Capitol on March 19. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Flanked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo promised Tuesday to conduct “tough diplomacy” and told employees at the agency he wants to restore its “swagger.”

Trump and Pence made the short trek to Foggy Bottom on Wednesday morning for a ceremonial swearing-in of Trump’s second secretary of State. The president hailed Pompeo’s experience — as well as his own business school performance — while cryptically alluding to unspecified “things” the U.S. government is doing around the globe.

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Pompeo used his remarks to be more business-like, telling State Department employees he wants to “make sure America is always a respected and principled leader on the world stage.” He also told them he wants the diplomatic agency to “get its swagger back” and execute its mission in “every corner of the world.”

He called Trump’s push for a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to strip him of his nuclear arms an “opportunity,” but warned the outcome was “uncertain.” Administration officials are moving toward a possible Kim-Trump summit with their “eyes wide open,” Pompeo said, adding that the only acceptable pact must be “permanent” and “verifiable” and implemented “without delay.”

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The new chief diplomat, formerly Trump’s CIA director, also said the administration has “put a hurt on the ISIS Caliphate in Iraq and Syria.” The U.S. government has previously only acknowledged the Islamic State’s goal of establishing a caliphate across the Middle East, not the current existence of such an entity.

Senate Democrats tried unsuccessfully to block Pompeo’s nomination, raising concerns about his previous comments about Muslims and LGBTQ people, among other things. Ultimately, however, a handful of Democratic senators facing tough re-election bids voted to confirm him on the Senate floor after he was barely approved by the Foreign Relations Committee.

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Morale inside the State Department plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a former Exxon Mobil executive who quickly moved to downsize the department. Trump eventually fired him, saying they disagreed on policy issues and clashed personally. The president has said he never trusted Tillerson.

But he has touted his relationship with Pompeo, who briefed him frequently as CIA director. Trump offered an example Wednesday of possible feelings of kinship with the former GOP congressman from Kansas. He noted that Pompeo was first in his class at West Point, and then touted his own alleged first-in-class finish at Wharton Business School, something Trump has asserted since he was a presidential candidate.

Numerous media reports have concluded that Trump was not the top student in his class. It was unclear if he was making a self-deprecating joke Wednesday. Nevertheless, he called Pompeo’s performance at the U.S. Military Academy “a big deal.”

Trump’s brief remarks began with cryptic mentions of activities his administration is involved in around the world.

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“It’s great to be with you, the extraordinary men and women of the State Department. We are profoundly grateful for everything you do for our country. And you’ll be doing things that you don’t even know about,” the president said.

Many of the assembled diplomats chuckled in unison.

“Right now, they’re not even a glimmer in your eye, ” Trump said grinning, “but we have a couple going, Mike, right now that a lot of people don’t know about that are very, very encouraging.”

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