Senate Confirms Callista Gingrich as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See

Posted: 1:53 am ET
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For a short while on Monday, Callista Gingrich was trending on Twitter. It turned out that the U.S. Senate finally voted on her nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. She got the nod in a 70-23 vote. Was there ever any doubt that the U.S. Senate would not confirm the spouse of the former Speaker of the House?

Of course, Twitter blew up when news of her nomination came out, also when she was actually nominated, and when she had her confirmation hearing, and Monday was no different when the Senate finally confirmed her. Given the notoriety of these lovebirds, we suspect that news will follow wherever Ambassador Gingrich and Newt, her husband and former Speaker of the House go. Except now, the Klieg lights will be more intense as she speaks for the United States Government in the Holy See, and as Newt tags along.

Instead of a search result returning “spouse of a U.S. politician”, her Wikipedia page has been updated on the date of her Senate confirmation to indicate that she is the United States Ambassador to the Holy See (Designate), with taking office still marked “TBD.” We can totally understand a woman reinventing herself. She could have asked for any other job in this administration, but she picked a diplomatic post. From now on, she will be known as Ambassador Gingrich, and not just Newt’s third wife. 

Of course, her nomination will be accepted there. Diplomatic courtesy requires that before the United States appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee –in this case, Mrs. Gingrich — is acceptable to the receiving state, the Holy See. The acquiescence of the Vatican is signified by its granting agrément to the appointment. Her nomination would not have been made public had the Vatican did not find her nomination acceptable. It is unusual for an agrément to be refused, but it occasionally happens, as in the case of the French Ambassador nominee who was reportedly rejected because he was gay.

YOU KNOW WHO ELSE IS BACK? The sharp tongued- Princess Sparkle Pony is on Twitter.

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Meet Newt, Soon to be @StateDept’s Newest Eligible Family Member

Posted: 12:54 am ET
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Via Politico:  Last week, Newt Gingrich sat in a classroom surrounded by 11 women and one other man, furiously jotting notes. In the weeklong intensive, where classes ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with only a short cafeteria lunch break in between, the former House speaker and onetime presidential candidate received a crash course in a new role: invisible spouse.  When he moves to Rome with his wife, Callista Gingrich, to become husband of the ambassador to the Holy See, the ubiquitous Fox News talking head will have no official diplomatic role abroad, beyond being generally presentable and essentially not heard from.

When Callista Gingrich is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to the Vatican, Newt Gingrich, the 50th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Fox News talking head will officially become a diplomatic spouse or an eligible family member (EFM). He has to be listed on Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report of the sponsoring employee, and be on Mrs. Gingrich travel orders. If they place their household effects in storage in Hagerstown, we’re fairly sure, it will be in Mrs. Gingrich’s name because she is the employee. Will he need to go to the Community Liaison Office to logon to OpenNet? Will they let him make his own request for house repairs or does the employee have to do that? Who will he need permission from to pursue outside employment?

And for every bureau, post, COM, etc. whoever slapped a diplomatic spouse’s hands or threatened his/her employee-spouse’s career for blogging or writing articles that has nothing to do with policy or privileged information, get ready. This should be interesting, huh?!

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Trump Expected to Nominate Callista Gingrich as the Next Ambassador to the Holy See (Updated)

Posted: 2:50 am ET
Updated: June 22, 2017
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On May 19, President Trump officially announced his intent to nominate Callista Gingrich, the  to be the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy. The WH released the following brief bio:

Callista L. Gingrich of Virginia, to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Holy See. Ms. Gingrich has been the President and CEO of Gingrich Productions, a multimedia production and consulting company in Arlington, Virginia, since 2007. She is the author of the New York Times bestselling “Ellis the Elephant” children’s series and co-author of “Rediscovering God in America.” Ms. Gingrich also produces and hosts historical and public policy documentary films. She served as a congressional aide in the U.S. House of Representatives and is President of The Gingrich Foundation, which supports charitable causes. Ms. Gingrich has sung for two decades with the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. She earned a BA cum laude from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

According to history.state.gov, the United States maintained a presence in Rome throughout the nineteenth century. The United States at different times had a Minister to the Papal States, Minister to the Pontifical States, and finally, a Minister to Rome from 1848 until Kingdom of Italy conquered Rome in 1870. Throughout much of the twentieth century, successive U.S. Presidents sent a Personal Representative to the Holy See, the diplomatic representative of the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope with its headquarters in Vatican City.

The United States and the Holy See established diplomatic relations by agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II on January 10, 1984, when William A. Wilson presented his credentials to the Pope, elevating his position from Personal Representative of the President to U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See.

Callista Gingrich, the wife of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is widely reported as the expected nominee to be the next ambassador to the Vatican. No official announcement has been made as of this writing. President Trump is scheduled to leave this week for his first trip overseas with stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel, The Vatican, Belgium, and Italy (May 26-27) for the 43rd G7 summit in Taormina, Sicily.

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The Last Time @StateDept Had a 27% Budget Cut, Congress Killed ACDA and USIA

Posted: 4:39 am ET
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Reporting for the Washington Post in 1996, Thomas Lippman wrote that “The total budget for civilian international programs, the so-called 150 account, started to decline in the mid-1980s. It leveled off during the Bush administration, then resumed a downward slide in President Clinton’s first year.” He noted that “the relentless budget pressure that began in the mid-1980s accelerated with the Clinton administration’s deficit-reduction plan, forcing the closing of consulates, aid missions, libraries, cultural centers and even a few entire embassies, from Italy to Indonesia, from Antigua to Thailand” (see U.S. Diplomacy’s Presence Shrinking).

Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States defeating incumbent George H. W. Bush in 1992Warren M. Christopher was nominated Secretary of State by then President-elect Clinton in December 1992.  Christopher was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on January 20, 1993, and sworn in the next day. Two months into the new administration, Secretary Christopher made his first official congressional appearance as Secretary of State before the Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary House Appropriations Committee to talk about redirecting American foreign policy, refocusing the aid budgets, and reforming institutions.

Secretary Christopher at that time said that “American foreign policy in the years ahead will be grounded in what President Clinton has called the three “pillars” of our national interest:  first, revitalizing our economy; second, updating our  security forces for a new era; and, third, protecting democracy as the  best means to protect our own national security while expanding the  reach of freedom, human rights, prosperity, and peace.”  He talked about Saddam Hussein, “If the lawlessness of [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has taught us any single lesson, it is that weapons of mass destruction, especially when combined  with missile technology, can transform a petty tyrant into a threat to world peace and stability.” Secretary Christopher talked about the State Department budget, “It will be a tough budget for tough times.  It will be a flexible budget that seeks austerity, not as a hardship to be endured but as a challenge to innovate and do our job  better.  Above all, we hope that this budget will mark a transitional step to a truly focused budget that sets priorities and puts resources behind them.”

Oh, brother where are ya?

In February 1993, Secretary Christopher also sent a  message to State Department employees on the Implementation Directive on Reorganization.  Two months into the Trump Administration, and days after the OMB released Trump’s “skinny budget” we have yet to hear from Secretary Tillerson on where the State Department go from here.  We know that he supports the budget cuts for his department, and he has made no public effort of defending the funding and programs for his agency but the top diplomat of the United States still has not articulated the foreign policy priorities of this administration. If Secretary Tillerson has sent a message to his troops in Foggy Bottom, we have yet to hear about it or its contents.

The proposed FY18 budget slashes the international affairs budget by 28% or 36% with Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funding factored in.  If passed by Congress, what happens to That Three-Legged Stool of American Foreign Policy?  As diplomacy and development will be hobbled by cuts, are we going to see an exponential growth in private contractors in support of DOD, diplomacy and development? Or are we going to just see staffing gaps and reduced diplomatic footprints from Algeria to Zimbabwe?

In Tillerson’s recent interview with IJR, he said about the State Department budget that “One can say it’s not going to happen in one year, and it’s not.”

He’s right.  The cuts may happen this year, and next year, and every fiscal year thereafter.  It sounds to us like an “American First” foreign policy does not see much use for diplomacy.  So we expect that the State Department budget will continue to be targeted during the entire Trump term. But if history is any indication, the decisions made today will have repercussions for our country down the road. Back in 1993, Secretary Christopher said, “when the time eventually comes to restore diplomatic relations with Iran, Iraq, Somalia and Libya, the money and personnel for those posts probably will have to come out of existing resources, officials said, thus increasing the pressure to close marginal posts elsewhere.” In 1996, the then Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director John D. Holum warned that the agency “no longer has a U.S. technical expert assigned to the U.N. weapons inspection team in Iraq.”  

With the exception of Iran, we are back in Iraq, and Somalia, and we know what happened in Libya.  We don’t grow diplomats overnight. Expertise and diplomatic muscle grow with time, with every assignment, with every challenge. What happens when the next crisis erupts in Asia? Can we just pluck diplomats and development experts from the OPM growth chamber?  Or are we going to have a civilian surge once more with diplomats lacking experience and language skills thrown into a pit and then expected to do an effective job?

Remember, do you remember?

We should note that the Democrats had control of the House and the Senate after the 1992 elections but the midterm elections in 1994 resulted in a net gain of 54 seats in the House of Representatives for the GOP, and a pickup of eight seats in the Senate. That was the Gingrich Revolution.  By the way, R.C. Hammond who previously served as press secretary to Newt Gingrich (a vocal Trump ally) is now a communications adviser for Secretary Tillerson.

WaPo reported that between 1993-1996 “the State Department has cut more than 2,000 employees and shuttered consulates in 26 foreign cities. The Agency for International Development (AID), which runs foreign aid programs, has been hit especially hard by the Republican-controlled Congress and has closed 23 missions overseas.”

In 1995, according to NYT: The U.S. ambassadors to Italy, France, Britain, Spain, the E.U., Germany, Russia and NATO reportedly got together and sent a secret cable to Secretary Christopher, signed by all of them, telling him that the “delivery system” of U.S. foreign policy was being destroyed by budget cuts. They pleaded with him to mobilize those constituencies in the U.S. that value the work of embassies, and volunteered to come to Washington to testify before Congress in their defense. The ambassadors got a polite note back from Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, telling them he understood their concerns but that there was a new mood in Congress. There was no invitation to testify.

The State Department at that time reportedly also promoted the concept of “diplomatic readiness,” similar to military readiness, “in hopes of persuading Congress to divert some money from the defense budget into diplomacy and foreign aid — activities that, in the diplomats’ view, save money over time by reducing the need for military actions.”

More than 100 businesses, trade associations, law firms and volunteer groups did organize a “Campaign to Preserve U.S. Global Leadership” without much success.

And this despite the fact that a 1994 GAO study indicates that only 38 percent of the U.S. government personnel in embassies work for the State Department, while 36 percent work for the Pentagon, 5 percent for Justice and 3 percent for Transportation. The other 18 percent includes representatives of the Treasury, Agriculture and Commerce departments.  We don’t know what is the current breakdown of federal agencies operating overseas under the State Department umbrella but if the Trump Administration starts turning off the lights in Africa, or Asia for instance, that could also prove problematic for the Pentagon.

What a 27% budget cut looked like for the international affairs budget?

By Fall 1995, the State Department released a Q&A on the International Affairs Budget–A Sound Investment in Global Leadership.  It includes the following:

Q. Since most Americans favor reducing government spending to balance the federal budget, have the State Department and other foreign affairs  agencies done anything to cut costs?

A. Yes, the Administration has done a great deal to cut costs. We have already:

— Cut the foreign assistance budget request by 20%;

–Trimmed more than 1,100 jobs at the State Department and 600 jobs at  the U.S. Information Agency (USIA);

–Identified, for elimination by 1997, about 2,000 jobs at the U.S.  Agency for International Development (USAID);

–Decreased administrative and overhead costs by $100 million; and

–Closed, or scheduled for closing, 36 diplomatic or consular posts, 10 USIA posts, and 28 USAID missions abroad.

OVERSEAS POSTS CLOSED, 1993-96 Consulates, consulates general and State Department branch offices: Algeria Austria Australia Brazil Colombia Egypt France Germany Indonesia Italy (2) Kenya Martinique Mexico Nigeria Philippines Poland Somalia Spain Switzerland (2) Turkey Thailand (2) Venezuela Zaire Embassies Antigua and Barbuda Comoros Equatorial Guinea Seychelles Solomon Islands. AID missions Afghanistan Argentina Belize Botswana Burkina Faso Cameroon Cape Verde Caribbean region Chad Chile Costa Rica Estonia Ivory Coast Lesotho Oman Pakistan South Pacific Switzerland Thailand Togo Tunisia Uruguay Zaire (via)

According to WaPo in 1996, USAID’s overall work force “has been reduced from 11,500 to 8,700 and is heading down to 8,000. The number of full “sustainable development missions” — on-site teams promoting long-term diversified economic development — declined from 70 at the start of the administration to 30.”

That’s what a 27% budget cut inflected on the international affairs budget did in the 90’s.

By 1999, with the Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act of 1998, the United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) and the United States Information Agency (USIA) were both abolished and folded into the State Department.

Who ya gonna call?

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell was recently quoted saying, “America being a force is a lot more than building up the Defense Department. Diplomacy is important, extremely important, and I don’t think these reductions at the State Department are appropriate.”

According to the Washington Examiner, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn  apparently signaled that President Trump’s initial proposed budget “won’t dictate how the State Department gets funded.” “The president’s budget goes in the waste basket as soon as it gets here,” he said.

We should note that in the 1990s, both houses of Congress (GOP) and a White House under a Democrat worked together to slashed the State Department budget. It was not a question of how much to cut, but where to cut.  This time around, we have a Republican Congress and a Republican White House, but while the WH is gunning for these cuts, the Senate particularly, appears not to be quite on board with the slash and burn cuts.  Still, we are reminded what former Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament Stephen J. Ledogar (1990-1997) noted in his oral history (PDF) — that “Not very many people will admit this, but the administration bowing to Congress on those consolidations was part of the price that was paid by the Clinton administration to Jesse Helms in exchange for him agreeing to let the Chemical Weapons Convention go through the Senate.” 

So … while there are differences in the circumstances during the budget cuts in the 1990’s and the proposed budget cuts in the current and FY18 fiscal years, we are mindful how things can change with the right carrots.

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Who Will be Secretary of State in January 2017? Giuliani and Bolton Reported as Front Runners

Posted: 3:31 am ET
Updated: 12:13 pm PT
Updated: 2:57 pm PT
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Updated: 2:57 pm | Media reports now say that the front-runners for the SecState job are former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Also included in the rumor mill is Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations who served under the Bush Administration. Given that Giuliani was one of the president-elect’s most aggressive surrogate during the campaign, it is conceivable that he will get this job if he wants it. But since no announcement has been made yet … we’ll continue hearing updates on who is  favored, or “being vetted” or who is “close” to being named 69th Secretary of State.

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We previously blogged about the names floated around as the next Secretary of State. In October, career diplomat Bill Burns was the prediction market’s favorite (see Who will be Secretary of State on Jan. 31, 2017?).  As of this writing, the former UN Ambassador John Bolton is running at $0.53 cents in the prediction market, way ahead of SFRC’s Senator Bob Corker and former House Speaker New Gingrich.

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There may be a good reason for it.  It looks like Newt Gingrich has taken himself out of the running:

The New York Times has a short-list of  other possibles including Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan,  and retired General Stanley McChrystal.

We don’t know who will eventually end up in Foggy Bottom, but here is former Ambassador John Bolton in an interview with Hugh Hewitt back in August 2016, who endorsed the former for the cabinet position with then candidate Trump.

On November 12, the National Review writes that “none is better suited to the job than former U.N. ambassador John Bolton.”

Bolton has been around the block—starting his career as a protégé of James A. Baker III—but has never become an establishmentarian or lost his edge. He would understand that he is the president’s emissary to the State Department, not the other way around, and avoid getting captured by Foggy Bottom’s bureaucrats the way, say, a Colin Powell did, or others with less experience likely would.

The National Review editorial went all in and writes that “John Bolton is an ideal pick, and his appointment would be a sign that the Trump administration intends to get off to a strong start.” 

Random person online says,”He will make heads explode!” In Washington DC and Turtle Bay. So apparently, that is a potential attraction at the Internets near you.

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In which politicians lament over our dead diplomats — also fund-raises over them before they are even buried

Perhaps Mitt really is a nice, rich guy who shops at Costco. That does not offend me; but this one does.  There are way too many “wonderfuls” here to make it sound authentic.  I do not/not like it.  He sounds as if he did not think through what he was going to say besides calling them, wonderful, that is.  It sounds to me as if our diplomats killed in Benghazi have become convenient props for the political campaign. Brrr…. that is cold, man.

Here is a coverage of that Virginia speech:

“I know that we’ve had heavy hearts across America today, and I want you to know things are going to get a lot better. But I also recognize that right now we’re in mourning. We’ve lost four of our diplomats across the world. We’re thinking about their families and those that they’ve left behind,” Romney said, at the beginning of a rally with roughly 2,700 supporters here in Northern Virginia.

Then, as Romney continued to lament the loss of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, and the three others killed in Benghazi, a heckler distracted him.

“What a tragedy, to lose such a wonderful, wonderful, uh,” Romney said, as the heckler began to yell, “Why are you politicizing Libya?”

Romney continued, “wonderful people that have been so wonderful and appreciate their service to the country.”

They are …”wonderful, wonderful, uh (heckler interuptus) wonderful people that have been so wonderful …”

That’s the best he can do?

You can hear the crowd chant the heckler down with USA! USA! USA!  Then Mr. Romney said, “And so I would, I would offer a moment of silence but one gentleman doesn’t want to be silent so we’re going to keep on going,” Romney said.

If he wins in November, he would need a good thesaurus.

So then here comes a top contender for the Crassest Award of the Year.

Former senator and former GOP presidentiable Rick Santorum apparently is using the rising violence in the Middle East (and his expression of condolences on the deaths of our diplomats) as the basis for a fundraising e-mail sent out by his political advocacy organization according to The Cable:

“The news coming out of the Middle East is deeply saddening and concerning. Karen and I first want to express our condolences to the families of Ambassador Stevens and the three other American officials who were killed in the recent terrorist attacks. Their service to our country was heroic and this senseless act of violence is horrifying,” begins the e-mail signed by Santorum and sent out by Patriot Voices, the nonprofit 501(c)4 advocacy group he co-founded after he lost his primary bid.
[…]
The organization has two missions: to help Mitt Romney defeat Barack Obama and to promote conservative policies and values, according to Santorum’s statements in June when it launched.

“Please continue to stand with me as we advocate for policies that properly defend Americans and their principles abroad. President Obama’s approach of apologizing to our enemies, turning our backs on our allies, and leading from behind weakens America and empowers our enemies. If American ideals are to remain prosperous here and abroad, the appeasement policies of this president must stop,” Santorum wrote.

The Cable reports that the end of the e-mail contains the pitch with a link to the Patriot Voices donation page.

Wow, what a crass act. Announcing an expression of condolence to the dead diplomats’ families via a fund-raising email with a pitch for donation before our diplomats are even back in U.S. soil. Before we can properly bury them or mourn their passing.  What?  They couldn’t wait even until after the return of remains today?

Holy mother of goat and her crazy nephews! How shockingly opportunistic!

Meanwhile in related news, in yesterday’s Politico op-ed, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker and another former GOP presidentiable took issue with the Obama administration calling this a “senseless act of violence” (he probably did not get Rick’s email) and writes:

This concept of “senseless violence” is at the heart of the left’s refusal to confront the reality of radical Islamists.

These are not acts of senseless violence.

These are acts of war.

Our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were not killed by a senseless mob. They were killed by a purposeful group of men armed with sophisticated weapons.

I recall, of course, Newt Gingrich telling CBS News in 2011, “The correct thing in an act of war is to kill people who are trying to kill you.” He was talking about Al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda, who was killed by a CIA drone.

Haven’t we seen this movie with war drums before, after 9/11? It started slow, then swooshed ever and we ended up in Iraq and got stuck there for years and years.

How many dots would it take before the warmongers can connect “this purposeful group of men” to say …. Iran and the bomb, bomb, bomb Iran chorus?  The pencils are out and the dots are out there …

I think we must be vigilant and not get swooshed over a second time around even when our hearts are broken.