Pompeo Promises ‘Smooth Transition’

" . . . to a second Trump Administration." Get it?

So, this happened:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo battled reporters over President Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the presidential election, predicting “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration” despite the fact that former Vice President Joe Biden is the projected winner of the race.

The comment from Pompeo, a top ally of the president, came during a combative news conference at the State Department on Tuesday when the Cabinet member was asked whether the agency is prepared to engage with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” Pompeo replied with a smile.

Now, it was clearly intended to be jocular. Pompeo laughed at his own “joke.”

And his follow-on is actually much more reassuring than some of the hysterical takes I’m seeing on Twitter:

“We’re ready,” Pompeo continued. “The world is watching what’s taking place. We’re gonna count all the votes. When the process is complete, there’ll be electors selected. There’s a process. The Constitution lays it out pretty clearly. The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today … and successful with a president who’s in office on Jan. 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.”

That said, this is a really poor time for joking. Biden has clearly and obviously won the election—winning the close states by a larger margin than Trump won them by in 2016—and the nation is on edge at the fact that the President won’t concede that he lost.

He also didn’t help himself by sneering at a woman reporter’s follow-up about the whole stance being dangerous. It’s not “ridiculous” to ask the obvious question.

Still, even though I’m not at all fan of Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary, he’s in an incredibly thankless position. He serves at the pleasure of a President who is not following the basic norms of American democracy. It may well be that, to prevent even further chaos in our foreign policy process during the transition, he has to bite his tongue rather than state the obvious. But, if that’s his judgment, then the right thing to do here was deflect rather than make bad jokes and then lash out at journalists for having the temerity to do their jobs.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, National Security, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Barry says:

    James: “Still, even though I’m not at all fan of Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary, he’s in an incredibly thankless position. He serves at the pleasure of a President who is not following the basic norms of American democracy.”

    He is where he is because he chose this.

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  2. Jen says:

    this is a really poor time for joking

    Yes, and a smart man would be well aware of this. Pompeo thinks a great deal of himself, and is likely champing at the bit to run in 2024. This was in incredibly poor taste.

    Stupid, even. His instincts are awful.

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  3. Kathy says:

    I seriously doubt any in Trump’s cabinet will go hungry if they forego 70 more days of pay. they can easily afford to take a stand for their country and challenge Trump, or resign en-masse, or invoke the 25th amendment.

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  4. mattbernius says:

    He serves at the pleasure of a President who is not following the basic norms of American democracy. It may well be that, to prevent even further chaos in our foreign policy process during the transition, he has to bite his tongue rather than state the obvious.

    If he had done anything… I mean anything… to reduce the hemorrhaging within the State Department, then maybe I’d believe that. But we’ve seen way too much “swagger” to accept that.

    James, this is like saying that maybe Barr is just biting his tongue and just placating the president in order to prevent further chaos at DoJ.

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  5. James Joyner says:

    @Barry: @Kathy: Again, not a fan. The point isn’t that he’ll lose the paycheck and perks of the job; he’ll get a massive pay hike very soon. But, to the extent he cares about the Department’s mission, he wants to hand over the reins smoothly and not have some Acting flunky thrust into the job with 70 days left to go. Let alone when Defense has already been shaken up.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @mattbernius:

    James, this is like saying that maybe Barr is just biting his tongue and just placating the president in order to prevent further chaos at DoJ.

    I haven’t commented on the Barr move because I really don’t understand the ramifications yet. Campaign lawyers can file all the suits they want, anyway, and without the need to build a case.

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  7. charon says:

    Now, it was clearly intended to be jocular. Pompeo laughed at his own “joke.”

    Joking is not incompatible with shit stirring/trolling.

    That said, this is a really poor time for joking.

    That looks to me to be understating.

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  8. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Or, conversely, he could actually believe it and be laughing at the reporters and anyone else who doubts that Trump isn’t going to raise as much sh*t as possible in the next eight weeks.

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  9. Teve says:

    @chrislhayes

    We will be dragging our political enemies into the town square to face the People’s Justice under the guillotine. Lol jk jk jk. Lighten up!

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  10. reid says:

    @James Joyner:

    Campaign lawyers can file all the suits they want, anyway, and without the need to build a case

    Okay, this came up in another thread. I’m not a lawyer, and luckily I have little experience in courts. But surely they can’t “file all the suits they want”. Even if spoken as hyperbole, what can or can’t they file? Is the worst that can happen that they just annoy a bunch of judges?

    This is very much from Trump’s playbook of winning as much as possible in court, either because the other side can’t afford it or whatever it was becomes obsoleted by events.

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  11. Scott says:

    I first noticed Pompeo during the 11 hour Clinton Benghazi BS hearings. Wasn’t impressed. As Secretary of State, also not impressed. There were rumors of self-dealing, pomposity, and entitlement.

    Supposedly he was friends with Mark Esper, who was a fellow classmate of his at West Point (class of ’86). I wonder what he’s feeling now.

    There are a lot of low quality people in this administration, regardless of their actual capabilities.

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  12. reid says:

    @reid: This would’ve been a good question for Doug, who I hope is happy wherever he is.

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  13. Mister Bluster says:

    @reid:..But surely they can’t “file all the suits they want”

    My ex wife was in law school when I met her.
    And I had heard this even before I met her. In civil court anybody can sue anybody for anything. It’s up to the Judge to determine if a case has merit or throw it out.
    Which is what Judges are doing now with the meritless challenges to Bidens apparent victory.

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  14. I must confess to being exhausted by high ranking officials in this administration saying disturbing and problematic things and then doing the childish defense of “I was just joking.”

    I would like high-level elites to have a bit more of a sense of responsibility.

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  15. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I haven’t commented on the Barr move because I really don’t understand the ramifications yet. Campaign lawyers can file all the suits they want, anyway, and without the need to build a case.

    The ramifications are that the DOJ is prohibited, under its manual, from bringing those suits until the election is certified and over.

    Barr just told AUSAs that they can jump in and help put their finger on the scale for GOP challengers and can use federal resources to publicly “investigate” to help the optics of the bogus challenges.

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  16. Modulo Myself says:

    Barr just told AUSAs that they can jump in and help put their finger on the scale for GOP challengers and can use federal resources to publicly “investigate” to help the optics of the bogus challenges.

    Yeah, let them. There’s nothing to investigate. We know who won, and there’s nothing they can learn more about it. Half of these fuckers sound like the serial killers they wish they were as they describe how Trump might win and the other half are loaded on Klonopin and scotch.

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  17. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    It’s just locker room talk! It’s those ‘woke’ people who get upset by it that are really destroying our country.

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  18. Gustopher says:

    @charon:

    Joking is not incompatible with shit stirring/trolling.

    This is literally 80% of my sense of humor. Telling people the truth phrased as a joke is great fun.

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  19. KM says:

    “Just joking” is the defense of the bully when questioned. “Just joking” is what they tell you when ask why they threaten your life or your safety. “Just joking” can hurt, physically and systemically. “Just joking” can kill because they are never joking, they just think you’re stupid enough to allow them to get away with it.

    Pompeo knows better. He ain’t new to the game and he’s certainly not as insane as his boss. This was meat for the base and gas for the fire. The idiots think they can keep feeding delusions to their base and it won’t cause any harm. How exactly do they think this ends? 70 million MAGAts suddenly go cold turkey on a cold Jan morning? QAnon folks just wake up with a hangover and lingering urge to “chck ur sources”? Everyone just quiets down to grumbling at the end of the bar again?

    It’s not a bad joke – it’s pandering to delusion and it’s dangerous. Maybe Pompeo knows he was being a snarky little HaHa Asshole but do the People know that? Does his people grasp that? All signs point to No.

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  20. Beth says:

    @James Joyner:

    This reminds me of “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” Which the internet tells me is Maya Angelou.

    I didn’t read this as being a joke or jocular at all. This was a threat. And for people to claim its a joke, you have to have to have us believe that a person who is Secretary of State, a West Point Grad, a former congressman, and Attorney, doesn’t know EXACTLY what he is doing. I’m supposed to imagine Pompeo as a Facebook Chuckle F**k who doesn’t realize what he’s doing?

    This is to the the GOP that they have free reign to do whatever they want under the cover of “joke.” It is a threat to people in the Federal Government to stay in line and keep their heads down. It’s also a threat to every marginalized person that they are coming for us.

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  21. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: You’re going to be disappointed with “make him a one-term president, part 3” then, too. I suspect. 🙁

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  22. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @KM:

    [Pompeo]’s certainly not as insane as his boss

    No, but I’m amenable to believing that he’s just as sociopathic and evil.

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  23. Jay L Gischer says:

    What someone should have asked him is whether he worries that delaying transition for a month (he seems to be taking the position that they will commence cooperating when the EC meets Dec 15) might have adverse consequences for the United States security and diplomatic interests.

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  24. Kingdaddy says:

    @James Joyner: What Pompeo said was wrong, period. Please stop trying to engender sympathy for him. All the Republicans who think the election was stolen will hear what they want to hear. (Click here for a comment today at Lawyers, Guns, and Money on exactly this point.) He just encouraged them in their beliefs. If he walks it back by saying that he was “joking,” it doesn’t matter. The damage is done.

    People like Barr, possibly now Pompeo, US senators, and other supporters of these voter fraud claims are burning bridges. There’s no way back into whatever’s left of the mainstream of American life. They are declaring their separation from the rest of us, in an all-out struggle for supremacy, to hell with the Constitution, elections, whatever. The phrase “I was just joking” is worse than weasel words. It’s a distraction from the crippling wounds being done to the American polity. Pompeo is not in a tough spot. He’s exactly where he wants to be.

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  25. de stijl says:

    Trump destroyed DOS, DOJ, and was trying to destroy DOD.

    Transition period is going to be scorched earth tactics.

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  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Still, even though I’m not at all fan of Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary, he’s in an incredibly thankless position. He serves at the pleasure of a President who is not following the basic norms of American democracy.

    Color me unsympathetic. He took this job in full knowledge of what he would be dealing with, because his ambition far outweighed his morals, of which I am more and more convinced he has none.

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  27. reid says:

    @Mister Bluster: At the least, I suppose that you would have to pay court costs and lawyer fees, which should be a disincentive to file tons of lawsuits.

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  28. inhumans99 says:

    @Kingdaddy:

    Yup, honestly at this point the GOP is really itching for a Civil Conflict. Not from a lack of effort, but fortunately they are not going to get what they want.

    Do folks who support Trump not understand that I can plunge a bayonet and twist as I pull it out to make sure they stay dead just as well as they can? This belief that all us Liberals are snowflake pussies who will just be subjugated by those who attend Trump’s rallies well…man Laura Ingraham and her ilk are doing her side no favors when they make it seem like we will just accept the crap they fling at us and convince the base that this is so.

    Dangerous, dangerous, dangerous…and yet there is no wise old man or woman on the GOP side with enough gravitas to tell them to knock off this talk of ignoring laws and just sending GOP electors to certify the election in places like WI. Someone needs to step up to save the GOP from themselves because if things do not go their way in 2022 us liberals might just have the means to raze the GOP down to the ground and salt the earth per Kevin Drum’s request.

    I am not trying to sound like an armchair warrior, and I admit I would fold like a cheap suit in a physical fight, but I know how to safely handle a weapon and have fired a semi-auto pistol (an H-K pistol), a 22 rifle, shotguns, and even a “Dirty Harry” type pistol.

    I may be a pussy in a physical fight but I can fire a gun with the best of them…does the GOP really believe the spin that it would be a cakewalk to overtake this country?

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  29. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @inhumans99: does the GOP really believe the spin that it would be a cakewalk to overtake this country?

    No, but a not insignificant number of their voters do.

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  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kingdaddy: Checked the LGM post and have to say, I’m really surprised that it was as much as that. Still, Campos makes a good point by noting

    In a broader sense, though, dumping Trump because the work you’re doing for him is wildly immoral is still tough to do, because once a big law firm starts drawing these sorts of distinctions, who knows where it will all end?

    Remembering why lawyers are being used in cancer and AIDS treatment research. It all reminds me of a line from the opening of the old TV show Civil Wars:[woman (v-o)]: You’re parasites. You’re bottom feeders. You feast on the misery of others.
    [lawyer (I believe it was Peter Onorati, v-o): Ma’am, I’m a lawyer; if it wasn’t for the misery of others, I wouldn’t even have a job.

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  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @inhumans99: I’ve gotten to the point where I’m pretty passionately ambivalent about saving the GOP, from themselves or anybody else. If they destroy themselves as a party, another group will arise. Nature abhors a vacuum. And I’m old and have a go bag and bugout money if it comes to that.

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  32. inhumans99 says:

    To temper my previous post, as I tend to do on this site….we live in a world where the Chinese were massacred and run over by tanks in their quest to try and push back against their government, in the days of the Cold War folks in Hungary would swarm tanks by the thousands enduring many deaths before they could tear a tank apart, the U.S. had one of the bloodier conflicts to take place around the globe in the form of our Civil War, many Latin American countries had conflicts that endured for decades before some form of peace was agreed on to settle a long-running conflict.

    The point I am trying to make is that for someone like Mike Pompeo who should be well versed in the art of diplomacy, to make such a statement to rile up liberals is just beyond the pale. The GOP has let Fox news rile up the base and the GOP base to a certain point, really has come to believe their own press that they can steal the election with no consequences.

    People get pushed to breaking points and fight back…I just keep hoping someone who understands how dangerous the rhetoric is that the GOP is spewing out on a daily basis, all in an effort to appease Trump and excite the Base in GA to vote, will step up to try to turn down the temperature.

    It just feels like more so than usual the the GOP is playing with fire and unleashing passions on both sides of the aisle that they may not be able to contain.

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  33. charon says:

    https://twitter.com/atrupar/status/1326309985031249926

    BAIER: You were asked about the concerns about a smooth transition and you said there will be a smooth transition to a 2nd Trump term. Were you being serious?

    POMPEO: We will have a smooth transition and we will see what people ultimately decided when the votes have been cast.

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  34. Not the IT Dept. says:

    As far as James is concerned, if a Republican does or says something, then it can’t be bad. There must be a reason, or people are being “hysterical” just because they like being mean to Republicans or something.

    It’s not like we’re supposed to be the most powerful nation on earth and this past week – not to mention past four years – has hurt our reputation in ways we Americans can’t yet understand because we don’t pay much attention to what foreigners think.

    Two things: the rest of the world will never completely trust us again and Putin is considering how to extend his trouble making. The guys at the Lincoln Project are totally right that the GOP needs to be exterminated electorally; what Republicans have done is unforgiveable.

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  35. grumpy realist says:

    James, your side has to start policing itself. None of this “haha it’s a joke that I made about ignoring the election.”

    Why should the other side stick to the norms of decent behaviour when your side keeps going past the boundaries?

    What will make you realise that the Republican Party has gone too far? When there’s another tragedy on U.S. soil engendered by our enemies and the Republican Party insists that Trump “remain President” because “it would be too dangerous to shift horses in mid-stream”? Because they’ll do it, you know they will.

    Adios democracy in America. Have fun with your caudillo. As for me, I’ll be looking for another country to move to.

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  36. SC_Birdflyte says:

    The ghosts of past USMA First Captains must be hanging their heads in shame at the spectacle of a First Captain whose conduct besmirches the ideals of Duty, Honor, Country.

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