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Pompeo faces immediate challenge to fill key State Department positions

More than 70 positions, including ambassadors to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, remain open in the State Department, while several positions have nominees but await confirmation from the White House. Usually dominated by career diplomats, the Trump administration has overwhelmingly put political candidates in the State Department. Nahal Toosi of POLITICO joins Hari Sreenivasan for more.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has many jobs to fill. The State Department is still missing key officials including ambassadors to nations like Turkey and Saudi Arabia. And there is concern that it is difficult to find candidates who are both experienced and acceptable to the White House. Political reporter Nahal Toosi has been covering the story joins us now from Washington D.C.Let's first talk about the number of jobs. Put this in perspective for us. How much work does Mike Pompeo have ahead of him?

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    Well, there's more than 70 positions that don't have a nominee. And many of those are ambassadorships, but they also include undersecretaries, assistant secretaries of state. These are very high level leadership positions. And there are several positions that have nominees but they haven't been confirmed yet.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's the attention of the White House. What's the sort of acceptability bar?

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    Well one of the key things is that if any if it was anyone who was on a signer of the Never Trump letters, these were many Republican national security and foreign policy experts, they've basically been blacklisted by this White House. If anyone has ever said anything bad or critical about the president he doesn't want them in any of these positions at the State Department. There's a very high loyalty test. And so it's it's meant that the bench is a lot slimmer than it would have been in past administrations.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So would Mike Pompeo have any better chance of getting a Never Trumpers rule than Rex Tillerson did?

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    I wouldn't say he has a good chance right now. But over time he might have a better chance and the reason for that is that he has a pretty good relationship with the president and he might be able to convince the president that look, some of these guys are really experts. And even though they signed those letters say during the campaign they want to serve you now.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What about the career diplomats where they are placed in how their position compared to the appointments that Pompeo could make or the ones that deserve Senate confirmation?

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    Well you know every administration has a certain level of political appointees and then the career appointees in the past presidents have when it comes to ambassadorships. About 30 percent have gone the political appointees and the other 70 percent have been drawn from career diplomatic ranks but the career foreign service really hopes that Pompeo turns to them whenever possible to fill some of these top positions especially when it comes to positions like Undersecretary for Political Affairs or the director general of the Foreign Service which is kind of like the human resources chief. So they're hoping that this is a good opportunity for Pompeo to show that he does care about the foreign service which tartans did not seem to do.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It is still very very early in his tenure but any indications that the culture might be different and under the regime?

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    Well Pompeo so far has gone out of his way to praise that members of the foreign service the civil service who work for him at the State Department. He did not bring in any outside aides or advisers and that was a really good signal to a lot of people at the State Department because it meant that he was going to rely on them for what he needed at least for now. And that was quite different than what Secretary Tillerson did because he came in and largely you know was surrounded by handful of people he brought in from the outside and they basically cut off his access to the Foreign Service and vice versa.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What's the kind of net effect of all these open positions. The State Department has thousands and thousands of employees. Is it functioning less effectively than it could

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    When you have assistant secretaries on issues like human rights or you know for the Middle East which we don't have one right now. Those are the guys who typically are the ones who are talking to foreign counterparts telling them you know keeping them out today on what's going on keeping people in the loop and you know now they're not there and so there's these like empty positions and people overseas foreign leaders foreign diplomats they don't know who to turn to at the State Department and they just feel like they feel like things are a bit lost. So there's a bit of a vacuum a lot of levels.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Alright Nahal Toosi of POLITICO thanks so much for joining us.

  • NAHAL TOOSI:

    Thanks for having me.

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