@SecBlinken’s Memo on COVID-19 Vaccinations and His Commitment to @StateDept Employees

Last week, Secretary Blinken sent a memo to State Department employees titled, “COVID-19 and My Commitment to You.”
The memo notes that “Our first priority must be to take care of our people—the more than 76,000 women and men who carry out the work of the Department in good times and tough times.”
He addressed the vaccination question:
“I know that many of you are asking, “When will I be vaccinated?” “When will my family be vaccinated?” My team and I want to get you and your families vaccinated as soon as possible—and we want to make this process as transparent as possible, so you have a better sense of how long it will take. We won’t stop until the entire workforce has the opportunity to be vaccinated. I wish this process were faster, but rest assured that we are pushing hard, and we will get there.”
The memo further notes that the State Department has “deployed nearly 80 percent of our received vaccine allotment to our overseas workforce” to-date. “Everyone at a given post is offered the vaccine at the same time. As the national supply increases, we will keep making the case for the State Department to receive our full allotment—as the lead foreign affairs agency and an integral member of the national security community with employees deployed in every corner of the globe, often in harm’s way,” Secretary Blinken wrote.
In his memo, Secretary Blinken also said, “we commit to keeping you informed with regular updates in the weeks ahead.”
He also encouraged all employees “to use leave to rest and recoup—and to seek help when necessary” and urged the need “to care of ourselves—and each other.”
Finally, Secretary Blinken said that he reminded the leadership team that we have no greater responsibility than the health, safety, and wellbeing of the people we’ve been entrusted to lead. Collectively, we are doing everything we can to support our entire workforce. We will get through this. And until then, let’s be sure to show one another the consideration, respect, and kindness everyone deserves. That’s how we will emerge from this crisis a strong—maybe even stronger—team, just as we’ve done in the face of other challenges throughout our long history.”
Also see @StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken.


 

 

 

@StateDept’s Vaccination Efforts For Overseas Posts Under Fire, a Test for @SecBlinken

 

Hey, did you see that  DOD is shipping Moderna COVID-19 vaccines overseas for military families?
This is the pandemic of our lifetime. Half a million Americans are dead and many more will die before this is over. DOD has a larger global footprint than the State Department. It has an expansive regional presence around the world.  Why isn’t State working with DOD and HHS to get all overseas USG personnel and family members vaccinated?

Dear Secretary Blinken, Secretary Austin, HHS Acting Secretary Cochran, can you please get this done?

Can we please have Secretary Blinken talked to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and HHS Acting Secretary Norris Cochran so we can get this done? If there’s a will, there’s a way. Simple as that. We sent these employees and their family members overseas to do work for the U.S. Government. The least we can do is to ensure that they get vaccinated as they continue to do their work on our country’s behalf. Why is that hard?
Do we really want our diplomats to deliver their démarches to their host countries in the morning and then have them beg for vaccines for themselves and their families in the afternoon?
C’mon!
We understand that the State Department’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts at overseas posts have come under fire. Yes, we’ve heard about the SBU Kosovo cable, and no, we have not seen it. One FSO told us it was a “blistering critique”, another FSO who read it told us it was “whiny”.  It looks like the cable got leaked fairly quickly to NBC News and New York Times. Politico’s Nahal Toosi previously had a thread on Twitter about it. Have you read the cable? What do you think?
News of the Kosovo cable is in addition to the recent reporting from WaPo’s John Hudson – Vaccine shortage prompts U.S. diplomats to request doses from foreign governments, including Russia. That’s the piece that includes an item about “State Department personnel appealed to Moscow for doses of its Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine after Washington could not promise the delivery of U.S.-made vaccine doses in the near future.” Oy! Who did that? A vaccine with no FDA approval? That report also says that in China some U.S. personnel have complained about being subjected to anal swab tests for the coronavirus by Chinese authorities. Double oy! More from WaPo:
The invasive technique has been heralded by Chinese doctors as more effective than a nasal swab despite the unpleasant nature of the procedure. In response to questions about the anal swab testing of U.S. officials, a State Department spokesman said the department was “evaluating all reasonable options” to address the issue with the aim of preserving the “dignity” of U.S. officials “consistent with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”
In a report about anal swabs,  Omai Garner, PhD, an associate clinical professor, clinical microbiology section chief, and point of care testing director in the Department of Pathology and Lab Medicine at UCLA Health said that “it became very apparent, like most other respiratory viruses, the most accurate place to find it is in the upper respiratory tract, so this is why I was a little bit surprised and confused by the reports coming out on large scale anal swab testing.”
What now?
Back in January, two diplomats tested positive of COVID-19 upon arrival in Guangzhou, China. The other passengers from the same flight, some 86 State Department folks apparently were all considered close contacts and placed in “centralized quarantine” for 21 days. The Chinese Government also informed Consulate General Guangzhou that it would “strictly enforce the separation policy” which means one adult/one room.  There was one mention of NAT nasal swab/throat swab but none about anal swabs. Yes, we did ask the State Department and USCG Guangzhou about this at that time but our email got chewed madly bad in an email grinder, never to be seen again. Either that or …
…. holy mother of god and all her wacky nephews please do not/do not make the dog eat our emails!
In any case, we sent a few question to the State Department’s Public Affairs shop asking if they could address the State Department’s vaccine delivery issues at overseas posts. We did say please, too, you guys! But to no avail.
It is our understanding that  State ordered enough vaccine, but HHS is refusing to turn over the entire allotment. Purportedly, the current administration also made a choice not to prioritize government workers (no matter where they serve, etc.) over average Americans in the vaccination. We asked if this is an actual policy on vaccine distribution but got no response.
We also wanted to know if Secretary Blinken is pushing the Biden Administration and HHS to release the remaining supply for DOS so State employees overseas get vaccinated and do not have to beg for those vaccines from their host countries.
We pointed out that given the State Department’s botched response to the Havana Syndrome, some overseas folks were understandably concerned that the health and safety of our people overseas does not matter back in DC.
Perhaps part of these concerns and anxieties also stem from the anecdotal evidence that some minor political appointees reportedly got their second shots just days before they left their jobs on January 20. And weren’t the same folks in charge of vaccinations at State before January 20 the same people in charge of vaccination decisions now?
Anyway, we waited. And we waited. And we waited for a response. We are sorry to report that we have not received a response to-date.
Source A did tell us that communication is spotty, and that there is frustration with Secretary Blinken for not saying anything about the vaccine shortage at State.  “At the moment, the feeling is that it’s not a priority of his.” Apparently, vaccines were originally promised sometime in December, then it became January, then February. This has now been replaced according to this same  source to what amounts to a message of  “we don’t know when you will get it.. maybe this summer.. you should get it locally if you can.”
So folks really just want to hear from their boss saying this is a priority, and that he’ll do something about it.
A second source, Source B,  told us that the leadership at State is communicating much more effectively to explain what the plans and rules are compared to Pompeo’s tenure  and pointed to a recent Zoom call attended by over 1,000 participants.
Source B who is familiar with the developments confirmed to us that State never got all the vaccines that HHS promised and that former Secretary of State Pompeo did call Secretary Azar but got nowhere. We do not know at this time if Secretary Blinken has pushed back or if he is working with HHS to obtain the full allocation for State. It is worth mentioning that the State Department currently does not have a nominee for the position of Under Secretary for Management. The position is currently filled in an acting capacity by the Senate-confirmed DGHR Carol Perez. We should note further that the calamitous response to the Havana Syndrome also occurred during a span of time when the State Department fired its Senate confirmed Under Secretary for Management, and no nominee was confirmed over a lengthy period, leaving only an Acting M. Another lesson not learned, eh?
Our understanding is that “a very small portion of domestic employees” has been vaccinated. One explanation was that for folks working in the buildings in DC, State is able to get almost all of them covered at the same time, whereas at overseas missions, there needs to be enough vaccines for all under Chief of Mission Authority. That is, all American and local employees from all agencies plus all American family members (folks reporting to combatant commands are not considered under COM authority).  A separate issue has to do with getting the vaccines to overseas posts via the cold chain.
If you’re on Twitter, go ahead and tag @SecBlinken, @SecDef, and @HHSGov.
Now we wait and see if anything gets done or if y’all need to start eating nine gin-soaked raisins for your health.

 


 

 

Secretary Tony Blinken Assumes Charge of @StateDept

 


 

 

 

U.S. Senate Confirms Antony John Blinken as 71st Secretary of State

On January 26, 2021, the U.S. Senate confirmed Antony John Blinken, of New York, in a 78-22 vote to be Secretary of State. He will assume office as the 71st Secretary of State.
The 78 Senators who voted for confirmation includes Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) who voted to overturn the results of the 2020 elections. The 22 Senators who voted against the Blinken confirmation includes seven who voted to overturn the 2020 election results after the mob assaulted the U.S. Capitol on January 6.  This country has a short memory. We think that all reporting that includes these senators should always append an asterisk for the repugnant roles they took before and after that mob attack. 

 

Deputy Secretary Blinken Poses for a Photo With Former Deputy Secretaries Burns, Wharton, and Negroponte
Deputy Secretary of State Antony “Tony” Blinken poses for a photo with former Deputy Secretaries of State Bill Burns, Clifton Wharton, and John Negroponte at a Foreign Service Institute reception highlighting American diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on February 2, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]


 

SFRC Clears Blinken Nomination, Full Senate Vote on Tuesday, Jan 26

In a 15-3 vote, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee cleared the nomination of Tony Blinken on January 25 to be the next secretary of state. It looks like Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted no on this nomination. Insurrectionist Senator Ted Cruz of Texas also voted no.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the Blinken nomination mid-day tomorrow, January 26. Foggy Bottom may see the 71st Secretary of State in Foggy Bottom by afternoon.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Sesame Street’s “Grover” to talk about refugees at the United Nations in New York City, New York on September 19, 2016. [State Department Photo/Public Domain]


 

 

Confirmation Hearing: Secretary of State Nominee Antony Blinken (Video/Text)

 

On January 19, Antony Blinken, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be the 71st Secretary of State appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for his confirmation hearing.

Excerpt from his prepared statement (PDF):

If confirmed, three priorities will guide my time as Secretary. 

First, I will work with you to reinvigorate the Department by investing in its greatest asset: the foreign service officers, civil servants, and locally employed staff who animate American diplomacy around the world.

I know from firsthand experience their passion, energy, and courage. Often far from home and away from loved ones, sometimes in dangerous conditions exacerbated by the global pandemic – they deserve our full support. If I am confirmed as Secretary, they will have it.

I am committed to advancing our security and prosperity by building a diplomatic corps that fully represents America in all its talent and diversity. Recruiting, retaining, and promoting officers with the skills to contend with 21st Century challenges and who look like the country we represent. Sparing no effort to ensure their safety and well-being. Demanding accountability – starting with the Secretary – for building a more diverse, inclusive and non-partisan workplace.

Second, working across government and with partners around the world, we will revitalize American diplomacy to take on the most pressing challenges of our time.

We’ll show up again, day-in, day-out whenever and wherever the safety and well-being of Americans is at stake. We’ll engage the world not as it was, but as it is. A world of rising nationalism, receding democracy, growing rivalry with China, Russia, and other authoritarian states, mounting threats to a stable and open international system, and a technological revolution that is reshaping every aspect of our lives, especially in cyberspace.

For all that has changed, some things remain constant.

American leadership still matters.

The reality is that the world doesn’t organize itself. When we’re not engaged, when we don’t lead, then one of two things happen: either some other country tries to take our place, but probably not in a way that advances our interests or values. Or no one does, and then you get chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people

Humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin.

Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad. And humility because most of the world’s problems are not about us, even as they affect us. Not one of the big challenges we face can be met by one country acting alone – even one as powerful as the U.S.

But we’ll also act with confidence that America at its best still has a greater ability than any country on earth to mobilize others for the greater good.

Guided by those principles, we can overcome the COVID crisis – the greatest shared challenge since World War II.

We can outcompete China – and remind the world that a government of the people, by the people, can deliver for its people.

We can take on the existential threat posed by climate change.

We can revitalize our core alliances – force multipliers of our influence around the world. Together, we are far better positioned to counter threats posed by Russia, Iran, and North Korea and to stand up for democracy and human rights.

And in everything we do around the world, we can and we must ensure that our foreign policy delivers for American working families here at home.

Let me conclude with a word about this institution, whose resilience and determination was on full display in the aftermath of senseless and searing violence in these halls. Both the President-elect and I believe we must restore Congress’s traditional role as a partner in our foreign policy making.

In recent years, across administrations of both parties, Congress’s voice in foreign policy has been diluted and diminished.

That doesn’t make the executive branch stronger – it makes our country weaker.

President-elect Biden believes – and I share his conviction – that no foreign policy can be sustained without the informed consent of the American people. You are the representatives of the American people. You provide that advice and consent. We can only tackle the most urgent problems our country faces if we work together, and I am dedicated to doing that.

If confirmed, I will work as a partner to each of you on behalf of all Americans.

 


 

 

Tony Blinken Confirmed as State Department #2

— Domani Spero
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The U.S. Senate confirmed Tony Blinken as deputy secretary of state on December 16 just before Congress adjourned. In early December, Newsweek reported that Senator John McCain was blocking the nomination, citing sharp disagreement with the nominee’s past statements on Iraq.

Via HuffPo: Blinken, whose nomination was nearly derailed by Republican opponents, skates into the office on a 55-38 vote as Democrats pushed dozens of President Barack Obama’s nominations through the upper chamber before losing their majority in the next Congress. The approval was thanks to Sen. Ted Cruz‘s (R-Texas) staunch opposition to the government spending bill, which kept senators in Washington for an extra few days before adjourning.

 

 

 

On November 7, President Obama released a statement on his nomination of Mr. Blinken:

I’m proud to nominate Antony Blinken to be our next Deputy Secretary of State. I’ve known and worked closely with Tony for the past decade, starting when I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he was its Staff Director. For the past six years, I’ve relied on Tony in the White House, where I’ve come to have extraordinary respect for his knowledge, judgment, and inclusive approach to developing and implementing our foreign policy. As everyone who knows and works with Tony can attest, he is a person of enormous integrity, with a tireless work ethic and deep love of country. He is exactly the type of person who we want to represent the United States of America overseas. If confirmed by the Senate, I know he will continue to do a great job on behalf of my Administration, Secretary Kerry and the American people.

The WH also released the following brief bio:

Antony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, a position he has held since 2013.  From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor in the Office of the Vice President.  Previously, he was Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.  From 2001 to 2002, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In the Clinton Administration, he served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Speechwriting.  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State.  Mr. Blinken received a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Mr. Blinken’s spouseEvan M. Ryan is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA).

Here is additional biographic details when he was appointed a key member of the Obama National Security Team after the 2008 presidential elections:

Antony “Tony” Blinken was appointed Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2002.  From 1994 to 2001, Mr. Blinken served on the National Security Council staff at The White House.  He was Senior Director for European Affairs (1999-2001) and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and NSC Senior Director for Speechwriting (1994-1998).  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (1993 – 1994), and was a lawyer in New York and Paris.  Mr. Blinken was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2001 to 2002) and a Senior Foreign Policy adviser to the Obama-Biden presidential campaign.  He has been a reporter for The New Republic magazine and has written about foreign policy for numerous publications, including The New York Times and Foreign Affairs Magazine.  He is the author Ally Verses Ally: America, Europe and the Siberian Pipeline Crisis (1987).  Mr. Blinken is a graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Law School.

Of the four key members of the Obama National Security Team announced in 2008, only Tom Donilon has not assumed a key position in the State Department. James B. Steinberg was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2011, and Jack Lew was Deputy Secretary of State from 2009-2010.  Mr. Donilon previously worked as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs from 1993 to 1996, and served as the Clinton administration’s Secretary of State’s chief of staff.

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Related posts:

Obama Officially Nominates WH Adviser Tony Blinken as State Dept #2

State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary

Officially In: Steinberg and Lew, the New “D”

Obama Officially Nominates WH Adviser Tony Blinken as State Dept #2

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

On November 3, we blogged this: State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary. Four days later, and three days after the midterms, President Obama officially announced his intent to nominate Anthony Blinken as Bill Burns’ successor at the State Department.

The WH released the following brief bio:

Antony Blinken is Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, a position he has held since 2013.  From 2009 to 2013, Mr. Blinken was Deputy Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor in the Office of the Vice President.  Previously, he was Staff Director for the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 2002 to 2008.  From 2001 to 2002, he was a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  In the Clinton Administration, he served on the National Security Council staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European Affairs and as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Strategic Planning and Speechwriting.  He also served as Special Assistant to the Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs at the Department of State.  Mr. Blinken received a B.A. from Harvard College and a J.D. from Columbia Law School.

Via Twitter:

 

 

 

 

This announcement came at a Friday afternoon, the reaction appears generally positive at this time.  There does not appear to be any reaction that could portend to how this nomination would fare in the lame duck session. Except for one Fox News contributor who boldly tweeted the following:

A side note, if Mr. Blinken is confirmed, there will be a new power couple at State. Right now, current power couple is Heather Higginbottom (D/MR and State Department #3) and spouse Daniel Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy with a rank of ambassador. If confirmed, Mr. Blinken will be State’s #2.  His spouse, Evan M. Ryan is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Prior to becoming Assistant Secretary of State, she served as the assistant for intergovernmental affairs and public liaison for Joe Biden; she also worked for the Kerry campaign and served in various capacities for then First Lady Hillary Clinton.

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State Dept’s Wendy Sherman Now Dual-Hatted as “P” and New Acting Deputy Secretary

— Domani Spero
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

On November 3, the State Department’s No. 4 official, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs (P), Wendy Sherman was designated as the acting deputy secretary of state pending the official nomination of Bill Burns’ successor. We do not know how long is this interim period but since the appointment is in an acting capacity, the vacancy at “P” will also be for an acting capacity. If Ms. Sherman is officially nominated as deputy secretary, there will be an official vacancy at “P,” a post traditionally encumbered by a career Foreign Service Officer. If another individual is nominated as deputy secretary of state (White House deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken is rumored to be in the running), Ms. Sherman may just return to her previous assignment at “P.” Place your bets now, folks.

The Secretary has requested and the President has designated Wendy R. Sherman to assume all authorities and responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary, effective November 3, 2014.

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman was sworn in as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs on September 21, 2011, a position she will retain during the interim period.

Prior to this position, Under Secretary Sherman served as Vice Chair of Albright Stonebridge Group, a global strategy firm, and a member of the Investment Committee of Albright Capital Management, an affiliated investment advisory firm focused on emerging markets.

Ambassador Sherman served as Counselor for the State Department from 1997 to 2001, as well as Special Advisor to President Clinton and Policy Coordinator on North Korea. From 1993 to 1996, under Secretary of State Warren Christopher, she was Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs.

Ambassador Sherman served as Chair of the Board of Directors of Oxfam America. She also served on the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Policy Board, a group tasked with providing the Secretary of Defense with independent, informed advice and opinion concerning matters of defense policy.

In 2008, Ambassador Sherman was appointed by Congressional Leadership to serve on the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction, Proliferation and Terrorism.

Ambassador Sherman attended Smith College, and received a B.A. cum laude from Boston University and a Master’s degree in Social Work, Phi Kappa Phi, from the University of Maryland.

Just curious —  is there at all, any career diplomat,being considered or is in the running for the D or P positions?

Originally posted as State Dept Gets a New Acting Deputy Secretary; Hurry, Now Vacancy for “Acting  P.”

Update:  The Cable’s John Hudson is reporting that an internal notice went out to employees today informing them  that Ms. Sherman will “assume all authorities and responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary,” effective immediately. At the same time, she will apparently continue to hold the position of undersecretary of state for political affairs and operate out of her same office.  The same report also says that President Barack Obama reportedly now favors the nomination of Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken for deputy secretary of state, the No. 2 position in Foggy Bottom and that “Ms. Sherman has been informed that she is not the permanent pick for the job.” Information is sourced from multiple unnamed sources.

Maybe this is all true, or maybe it’s an effort to shore up support for the “D” candidate floated around, and/or see what kind of Hill reaction surfaces.   Makes one wonder one thing though, if Blinken is now the top pick, how come the White House has not made an official announcement.  Instead, what we have are anonymous talks about Blinken as the WH preferred candidate. Is the WH waiting to make an announcement after the election or after a new Congress is seated?  Hold on, maybe, the WH is waiting for President Obama to actually make up his mind?

As a side note, given the nature of the two jobs, we can’t imagine that Ms. Sherman can remain dual-hatted as “D” and “P” for a lengthy period. The John Hudson report also cited a State Department staffer saying that the Sherman “promotion” was in part prompted by “the bureaucratic need to have “D-level” signatures sign off on important State Department business, such as contracts.” Wait, what?  If the deputy secretary of state (“D”)  actually need to sign contracts, what’s the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources for?

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