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Biden Climate Envoy Kerry Talks About Saving The Planet

Reprinted with permission from ProPublica

Last month, President-elect Joe Biden said he would demonstrate his administration's prioritization of the climate emergency by appointing former Secretary of State John Kerry to a high-profile role as the nation's climate czar, a new position on the National Security Council that will report directly to President Biden, and through which Kerry will elevate the climate crisis in both the nation's international diplomacy and its domestic policymaking.

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Naming Kerry As Special Envoy Shows Biden’s Commitment On Climate

President-elect Joe Biden in Monday announced on Monday that former Secretary of State John Kerry will be joining his administration in a newly created role focused on climate change and how it impacts national security.

Kerry will serve as the first special presidential envoy for climate on the National Security Council.

The appointment of Kerry to the new position is indicative that Biden plans to make climate change a top priority of his administration, appointing officials to all agencies who will take climate change and its effects on Americans' health, economy, and national security into account in creating policy.

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Trump Urges Prosecution Of Kerry In Rambling Press Conference

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

On Thursday,  President Donald Trump gave a White House press conference that was intended, primarily, to address medical billing. But the president was all over the place during the briefing, using it for everything from attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller and former Secretary of State John Kerry to a defense of his China trade policy. Here are some of the wildest and craziest moments from Trump’s May 9 White House press conference.

1. Trump described his administration as generous to Puerto Rico

Trump has been widely criticized for his response to the Hurricane Maria tragedy in Puerto Rico; San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Roselló have been especially critical. But during his press conference, Trump vigorously defended his Puerto Rico policy — saying he “gave Puerto Rico $91 billion” and insisting “I think the people of Puerto Rico should really like President Trump.”

2. Trump called for prosecution of John Kerry

Trump, after taking office, ended the Obama Administration’s nuclear arms deal with Iran, which was negotiated in part by former Secretary of State John Kerry. And Trump took aim at Kerry on Thursday, accusing him of telling Iran not to call his administration. Trump claimed that Kerry was in violation of the Logan Act and should be prosecuted for interfering.

3. Trump deferred to Barr on Mueller testimony

Trump, recently, has begun saying that special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress, after previously saying he would leave it up to the attorney general to make that decision. But on Thursday, he again deferred to Attorney General William Barr on the matter. “I’m going to leave that up to our very great attorney general,” Trump told reporters. “He’ll make a decision on that.”

4. Trump used a press conference on medical billing to attack Mueller

Although Thursday’s press briefing was meant to primarily address medical billing, Trump reiterated his familiar theme that Mueller’s Russia investigation was a pointless and partisan effort orchestrated by Democrats who are out to get him. Trump also suggested that Mueller might have had a conflict of interest, saying that after he fired former FBI Director James Comey in 2017, Mueller (who had previously directed the FBI) was considered as a replacement but ended up being special counsel instead.

5. Trump claimed Donald Trump, Jr. was ‘exonerated’ by Mueller

Trump also used the press conference to defend his son, claiming that Donald Trump, Jr. was “totally exonerated by Robert Mueller.”

6. Trump says he ‘gave China a break’

Trump defended tariffs on Chinese imports, saying that had been going easy on China and that he “gave China a break” when it came to tariffs. And after tariffs are increased, Trump said, “We’re going to be taking in more money than we’ve ever taken in.”

IMAGE: Secretary of State John Kerry in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

‘CEO’ Tillerson Faces Internal Skeptics

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of Rex Tillerson’s first directives as U.S. secretary of state was an order to senior staff that his briefing materials not exceed two pages.

It was a reflection of Tillerson’s management style honed at the helm of Exxon Mobil, an oil company known for its relentless focus on efficiency, and one reason his closest aides at the State Department refer to him as “the CEO” rather than “the Secretary.”

More than a dozen current and former U.S. officials familiar with briefing procedures said Tillerson’s predecessors would typically request far more detailed information. His aide R.C. Hammond said the directive reflected Tillerson’s focus on key facts rather than lack of interest in finer points of foreign policy.

“He is asking people to be efficient with their information,” Hammond said, adding that if Tillerson needed more information he would ask for it. “He is a decision-maker and he needs the facts in front of him.”

As a first-time government official with no prior diplomatic experience, Tillerson faces close scrutiny over how successful he will be in managing both the State Department bureaucracy and its relations with Donald Trump and his administration.

Senior State Department officials who have attended meetings with Tillerson say they find him sociable and a man of substance, whose direct manner and probing questions reflect his training as an engineer seeking to solve problems rather than play politics.

The veteran oil executive also made a good impression on his first foreign trip to a Group of 20 summit in Bonn, Germany, last week. Four senior diplomats who met him told Reuters they were relieved to find that he was pragmatic and open to dialogue.

Yet a key concern for U.S. diplomats is how effective his team can be in shaping foreign policy in the new administration. Just two State Department positions of 116 key posts requiring executive branch nomination have been filled, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service – Tillerson’s and that of U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

For example, Tillerson still has no deputy after Trump rejected his top choice, Elliott Abrams.

“People want to back him,” one veteran senior official said about the former Exxon Mobil boss. “But people are feeling that this building is being stripped,” said the official, referring to a sense that with so many top positions vacant, the State Department is not fully equipped to help make policy in the new administration.

There is also unease over possible deep staff cuts and the future of some departments. Two people said employees in the Bureau of Management and Resources were told to apply for other positions within the State Department. Hammond, Tillerson’s aide said no decision had been taken to close that division.

IN OR OUT OF THE LOOP?

On one recent matter of longstanding U.S. foreign policy, Tillerson appeared to be sidelined.

On Feb. 14, while Tillerson was at a dinner with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a State Department dining room, news headlines emerged suggesting the United States was backing away from supporting a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

The two-state solution is the bedrock of the international community’s policy for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians, but Trump suggested last week he was open to abandoning it if both sides agree.

“No one had been informed of any changes in policy and the Secretary was about to leave on his first major trip,” said one senior State Department official, referring to Tillerson’s visit to Bonn.

Tillerson’s acting deputy Tom Shannon also did not take part in Trump’s meeting with Netanyahu at the White House the following day when his boss was on his way to Europe, according to one U.S. official.

It was unclear whether Tillerson had been left out of the loop deliberately or by accident, said two officials.

A White House official told Reuters he did not know whether Tillerson was briefed in advance. In response to broader concerns about communication between the State Department and the new administration, he said both coordinated “very well.”

“There are open lines of communications in both directions,” the official, who declined to be named, said. “The White House and the State Department coordinate closely across a full range of issues that concern both organizations.” To be sure, on another important issue, Tillerson had his say in persuading Trump to back Washington’s stance on “One China” policy, which acknowledges Beijing’s position that Taiwan is part of it. Trump has in the past appeared to question whether the United States would continue to respect that.

Hammond said Tillerson was on the phone with Trump several times a day.

“This is the general style of the president to have quick check-ins with people, get people’s advice on things,” he said. “Information for CEOs flows up, and as a former CEO (Tillerson) understands that.”

Tillerson has said little publicly since he started and his aides are quick to draw a contrast between him and predecessor John Kerry, a former senator and presidential candidate who reveled in extensive foreign travel and deal making.

“Tillerson is not John Kerry, it is unfair to compare the two,” said Hammond. “He will quietly go about his job as a counselor and advisor to the president.”

For Tillerson’s State Department the concern is how to maintain a similar degree of communication with an administration grappling with a succession of crises, nine officials involved in foreign policy and security issues, said.

Over the past month the White House has faced legal setbacks over its immigration orders, the resignation of Trump’s national security adviser, and an investigation into possible links between his campaign and Russian intelligence.

Monday’s resignation of Michael Flynn, who served as Trump’s national security adviser for just 24 days, in particular created a vacuum at the National Security Council, which acts as a key partner for the State Department in formulating Washington’s foreign policy.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland in Washington and Andrea Shalal in Bonn. Editing by Warren Strobel and Tomasz Janowski)

IMAGE: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens during an opening session meeting of G-20 foreign ministers at the World Conference Center February 16, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool