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What’s Taking So Long For Trump To Name U.S. Ambassadors?

State Department

It’s being reported this morning that Callista Gingrich, the wife of former House Speaker and Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, will be named by President Trump as his choice for U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, but this news is just serving to emphasize a long delay by the Trump Administration in naming new Ambassadors:

ROME — Less than two weeks before a potentially tense and diplomatically delicate meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican, President Trump has apparently settled on nominating Callista Gingrich, the wife of Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, as the United States ambassador to the Holy See, according to two people close to the president.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment, and the announcement is pending approval from the Office of Government Ethics, according to CNN, which first reported the news on Sunday.

Mr. Gingrich, reached by phone on Sunday evening, declined to confirm or deny that his wife would be nominated, saying only that he and his wife were told to “be very cautious” until an actual nomination was announced.

The idea of nominating Ms. Gingrich first became public in January, and during the transition Mr. Trump half-jokingly said he was intrigued by the idea of picking Ms. Gingrich because it could also get Mr. Gingrich, with whom he has a hot-and-cold relationship, out of his hair, according to one of the people with knowledge of Mr. Trump’s remarks.

Over recent months, Ms. Gingrich and her husband grew increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of the vetting process, and Ms. Gingrich even threatened to take her name out of the running, according to one of the people.

Others who were considered include Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, who was an early favorite for the position but took his name out of the running because of the financial strain it would put on his family, according to one of the people with knowledge of the nomination process.

Ms. Gingrich, a member of the choir at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, played a critical role in Mr. Gingrich’s conversion to Catholicism. But she also played a role in breaking up his second marriage, according to Mr. Gingrich’s ex-wife and former adviser, Marianne Gingrich. The couple divorced in 1999.

She told ABC News, during Mr. Gingrich’s run for president in 2012, that her husband had sought an open marriage so that he could keep seeing Callista Bisek, then a congressional aide. (Mr. Gingrich denied the accusation at the time.)

(emphasis mine)

While some might view an Ambassadorial appointment to the Vatican as largely ceremonial, it’s not exactly like an appointment to a place like Fiji or the Federated States of Micronesia, where a U.S. Ambassador is likely to face a low-paced and undemanding appointment. With more than one billion Catholics worldwide and the Pope often seen as a key diplomatic force, it can be one that calls for an Ambassador with the experience and knowledge necessary to walk the fine lines that often come with dealing with the Curia, the bureaucracy of Cardinals and others that constitutes the power behind the throne in Vatican City. How Gingrich qualifies for that position is at least somewhat questionable. Additionally, the appointment of ambassadors to the Vatican has often proven more difficult than might be suspected in the past. President Clinton, for example, had particular trouble finding a nominee acceptable to the Curia based on things they had written or said in the past or items in their biography that might prove to be controversial. Whether Gingrich’s pre-martial relationship with the former Speaker falls into that category isn’t entirely clear.

This report does highlight also points out an oddity regarding the Trump Administration to date, namely the delays that seem to be taking place in putting new Ambassadors in important places. For example, it was reported in March that former Utah Governor, Ambassador to China, and Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman would be named as the selection for Ambassador to Russia. However, that nomination apparently has yet to be sent to the Senate. There are also several other important postings to major allies and other parts of the world that have yet to be sent to the Senate or, if sent, yet to be voted on. There’s been no reporting that I have seen about this issue and no official explanation for why it’s taking so long to name Ambassadors. According to this list maintained by the American Foreign Service Association, Ambassadorial posts in many major nations remain vacant even as we hit Day 116 of the Trump Administration, including appointment to close allies such as the United Kingdom  France, and Germany as well as NATO members and other major European nations such as Norway, Spain, and Sweden, and other nations considered important allies such as Australia, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, and major international organizations such as NATO, the Organization of American States, and several spots to various United Nations agencies that get their own Ambassadorial appointment, Just this morning, the Salt Lake City Tribune took note of the delay in the Huntsman announcement, in particular, speculating that the ongoing investigation and allegations regarding Russian interference in the election and the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia could be having an impact on the timing of an announcement regarding Huntsman. This isn’t speculation without merit, of course, since Huntsman would likely face at least some questioning from the relevant committee considering his appointment regarding these ongoing controversies as well as other issues concerns U.S.-Russian relations. It’s possible that the Administration is waiting until the controversy blows over before making an announcement, although it doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen anytime soon. Also, it wouldn’t explain the delay in naming Ambassadors for other major nations. In any case, Ambassadorial duties in the nations without appointments are currently being handled by either the Counsel General, the second-ranking diplomatic officer in the nation in question, or by a Deputy Ambassador who would most likely be a career State Department employee so it’s not like the embassies are closed or anything

To some degree, of course, the role of Ambassador is not what it used to be given modern communications and the ability of top leaders and officials in respective governments to reach other via telephone and video conference and communicate directly. The days when communications between nations took weeks at least and when Ambassadors such as Thomas Jefferson in France or John Adams in the United Kingdom played important roles in international relations are long gone and the responsibilities of an Ambassador have been greatly reduced since they’re no longer necessary. That being said, it’s still important to have the people in those positions capable of maintaining good relationships with government officials in the nations they are placed in place, especially in potentially hostile nations Even in friendly nations, the Ambassador is likely to deal one-on-one with more officials, legislators, and business people from the nation they are residing in that is possible for a Secretary of State or President. Additionally, many nations still see the identity of an Ambassador as an important sign of the state of their relationship with the United States. That, apparently, was one of the reasons that President Obama chose Caroline Kennedy as U.S. Ambassador to Japan. Even more than fifty years after his death, Kennedy’s father former President Kennedy remains a very popular figure among the Japanese public. While Kennedy herself did not have previous diplomatic experience, naming her was widely praised in Japan and she was a popular figure in the national media there during her tenure who, by all reports, did an excellent job representing the United States in a nation that has become one of or most important allies in Asia. On the other hand, naming a relatively unknown person, or not naming an Ambassador for some nations could be seen as a slight, or a signal that the President doesn’t consider relations with the nation in question to be a priority. In any case, Ambassadorial duties in the nations without appointments are currently being handled by either the Counsel General, the second-ranking diplomatic officer in the nation in question, or by a Deputy Ambassador who would most likely be a career State Department employee so it’s not like the embassies are closed or anything. Still, the delay is yet another apparent example of the difficulties this Administration is having in just getting started even after more than three months in office.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. rachel says:

    Maybe the Vatican could arrange for an exorcism while she’s there. She sure looks like she’s not entirely natural.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  2. Pete S says:

    Given the ethics of this administration I would assume that the ambassador posts are being filled slowly because the bids are still coming in.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  3. CSK says:

    @Pete S:

    There’s that. I suspect that Trump is simply incapable of devoting even a slight amount of attention to the matter, and that Ivanka and Jared haven’t set aside the time (with all the other things they have to do) to draw up a suitable list and inform Daddy that these are his picks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  4. KM says:

    (1) Does he know this is even a thing? Given his incompetence, it’s probably a note on the agenda they never got to before the Tantrum of the Day kicks in. If he doesn’t, nobody tell him. We need to get out of this with *some* political relationships intact.

    (2) Who the hell would he nominate? Who’s going to go to another country and have to explain to someone – on foreign soil with the dubious protection of diplomatic immunity – the insanity and inanity that comes from that man’s mouth? Being an Ambassador can be a dangerous job, depending on the location taking one under this Administration could be considered a suicide attempt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  5. MarkedMan says:

    I’m pretty sure that diplomatic protocol in many countries would require an Ambassador for certain events, treaty signings, etc to take place. I think it unlikely that say, the Japanese President, or the Brazilian foreign minister would negotiate one on one with a Deputy Ambassador. Heck, that goes double for the Japanese, because I know from experience that when Japanese businesses where first becoming power houses they would send a second in command manager to negotiate something, battling long and hard and fighting for every concession. Then, when the American or European side thought they were all done and were nursing their bruises, the real manager would show up and take everything their junior had negotiated as the starting point.

    Trump and his fellow idiots would be putty in the hands of seasoned negotiators. Even American businesses have learned that you can do anything you want as long as you preface by saying “Trump’s tough negotiations made us reconsider X, so now we are doing Y.” Trump, being ignorant of virtually everything, doesn’t understand what X or Y is so is happy just to get the sound bite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  6. CSK says:

    @KM:

    Yep. What competent, sane person would want to work for Trump in any capacity?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Ambassadors? We don’t need no stinking ambassadors.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  8. Jen says:

    Additionally, many nations still see the identity of an Ambassador as an important sign of the state of their relationship with the United States.

    Yes, they do. Which is why it is so egregious this process is so haphazard with this crew, but it’s probably folly to expect anything else.

    I get the feeling that one issue Trump has is that he’s run a family business, where he knows virtually all of his top- and even mid-level employees by name. The size of government posts doesn’t allow for that, and I think it makes him uncomfortable to not have the level of control he is accustomed to. That, and maybe Bannon bleating in his ear about the Department of State not being necessary, etc.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. CSK says:

    @Jen:

    Do you think Bannon still hold that much sway over Trump? And don’t forget that Tillerson is the only cabinet member Trump still likes, since Tillerson’s willing to fawn all over Trump in public.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Callista Gingrich carried on a 6 year affair with Newt while he was married.
    This is what passes for a christian.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  11. Bob@Younsgtown says:

    @KM:

    (2) Who the hell would he nominate?

    His team is looking for loyalists. Ted Nugent , the Rock, David Duke as well as Bubba would be appropriate candidates.

    We’ll be lucky to get outa this alive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. DrDaveT says:

    Damn, I was hoping for Bernie Sanders for the Vatican spot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. al-Alameda says:

    Reassign Betsy DeVos from Education to an ambassadorship in Paraguay. That would solve part of the problem.

    Seriously though, haven’t Trump and his people decided that the only “State Department” they need is Tillerson and Trump himself?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. michael reynolds says:

    If you’re smart enough to be an ambassador you’re too smart to work for Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Alameda: I haven’t seen much evidence they feel they need Tillerson,

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That’s what I’m thinking. Usually, a President is overwhelmed with people vying for places in his Administration. He can’ NOT fill positions because there are so many people who want them. And even with ceremonial positions there are allies to reward, factions to placate, donors to pat on the head.

    I had hoped that Pence et al. would be running this show but it sure looks like they’re descending into a closed a group of inner Trumpers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. CSK says:

    @Hal_10000:

    Trump’s a dumb, inept Vito Corleone. He doesn’t trust anyone but family.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Monala says:

    @rachel: What’s sad is that I once saw a photo of Callista, pre-Gingrich. She looked like a beautiful and entirely normal woman. The Stepford wife look is something she adopted after she was with Newt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If you’re smart enough to be an ambassador you’re too smart to work for Trump.

    That’s why it would be the perfect comeuppance for the George Wills, Charles Krauthammers, and other self-anointed Conservative Intelligentsia. If Buckley were still alive, I can think of no better fate for him than to be appointed US Ambassador to Sweden — too prestigious to decline, too insulting to be borne.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  20. Slugger says:

    Is this real? The US doesn’t have an ambassador for Russia, France, Germany, and the UK among others? No ambassador to South Korea while there are big deal events on the peninsula?
    Can someone mention me for the Germany job? I speak the language and know the Berlin subway system well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  21. CSK says:

    @Slugger:

    Sadly, it’s for real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0