State Department report will trim language on women’s rights, discrimination

State Department officials have been ordered to pare back passages in a soon-to-be-released annual report on global human rights that traditionally discuss women’s reproductive rights and discrimination, according to five former and current department officials.

The directive calls for stripping passages that describe societal views on family planning, including how much access women have to contraceptives and abortion.

A broader section that chronicles racial, ethnic and sexual discrimination has also been ordered pared down, the current and former officials said.

The move, believed to have been ordered by a top aide to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reflects the Trump administration’s rightward turn from the Obama administration on family planning issues. It also appears to highlight the stated desire of Tillerson and President Donald Trump to make human rights a lower priority in U.S. foreign policy.

Some career State Department officials — particularly female staffers — are suspicious of Continue reading “State Department report will trim language on women’s rights, discrimination”

‘Leadership, Fitness and Sex’: Trump NSC aide moonlights as podcast host

If staff turmoil at the White House has President Donald Trump searching for leadership advice, he’s in luck: One of his top aides is here to help.

An official on Trump’s National Security Council — where stressed-out aides aren’t exactly known for their ample free time — has launched a website and related podcast on leadership.

The title of his first episode? “Leadership, Fitness and Sex.”

The host is retired Rear Admiral Garry Hall, who serves as the NSC’s senior director for international organizations and alliances. The “Admiral’s Almanac,” a podcast available on a personal website, appears to be a side project for a man whose day job is, in theory at least, punishingly busy.

“The Wit and Wisdom of Rear Admiral Garry Hall,” announces the website, which features Hall standing behind a desk in a uniform decorated with medals.

It’s not clear whether Hall has the Continue reading “‘Leadership, Fitness and Sex’: Trump NSC aide moonlights as podcast host”

Lawmakers promise bipartisan ‘no’ to Trump plan for cutting diplomacy and aid money

For the second year in a row, President Donald Trump is demanding that Congress dramatically slash U.S. spending on diplomacy and foreign aid.

And once again, lawmakers are likely to ignore him.

The White House on Monday proposed allocating $41.7 billion for the International Affairs Budget in fiscal 2019, a category that includes the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. That’s a 30 percent cut from the fiscal 2017 enacted level of $59.6 billion, according to an analysis of the proposal by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Trump sought similar cuts in his budget proposal last year, shortly after taking office, saying he’d prefer to direct the money to the Pentagon. But he faced stiff bipartisan resistance in Congress then, as he is now.

“A strong, bipartisan coalition in Congress has already acted once to stop deep cuts to the State Department Continue reading “Lawmakers promise bipartisan ‘no’ to Trump plan for cutting diplomacy and aid money”

Tillerson scales back State Department restructuring plan

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson first announced plans to “redesign” the State Department, U.S. diplomats braced for huge changes ranging from shuttered embassies to dramatic staff and budget cuts. As Tillerson failed to fill top leadership positions, some staffers worried the former ExxonMobil CEO was arrogantly dismissive of their mission.

But a year into his much-criticized tenure, Tillerson is scaling back people’s expectations of his vision. Far from swinging a wrecking ball into the 75,000-employee department, Tillerson looks ready to tap with a hammer and chisel.

State Department officials say that talk of closing down entire wings of the department has been replaced with narrower plans to upgrade technology and improve training. Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have declared dead on arrival a Tillerson-supported White House plan to cut State’s budget by 30 percent.

It’s not clear whether Tillerson has modified his goals for shaking up the Continue reading “Tillerson scales back State Department restructuring plan”

Amid low morale, highest-ranked career official at State to step down

The highest-ranked career official at the State Department is retiring, a decision that comes as the Trump administration faces a series of global challenges and amid unusually low morale among U.S. diplomats.

Tom Shannon, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the department in an email Thursday that his decision "is personal, and driven by a desire to attend to my family, take stock of my life, and set a new direction for my remaining years."

Shannon has spent nearly 35 years in the Foreign Service, much of it in top positions dealing with Latin America. He has been a key source of advice to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who came in with no formal diplomatic experience.

Shannon’s presence has offered some reassurance to U.S. diplomats startled by the ups and downs of the Trump administration, particularly President Donald Trump’s unpredictable approach to foreign policy. Continue reading “Amid low morale, highest-ranked career official at State to step down”

Against odds, Tillerson hangs on — for now

Rex Tillerson was supposed to quit or be fired by July. Or was it October? Definitely by the end of 2017, some predicted. One group of foreign diplomats and State Department officials even set up a casual betting pool. The over/under date: Jan. 31, a day shy of Tillerson’s one-year anniversary as secretary of state.

As that date approaches, the diplomatic world is watching closely for a much-discussed “Rexit.” But expectations are being downgraded among those who thought he’d be gone by month’s end. If anything, Tillerson looks inclined to hang on to his post for the foreseeable future.

He arrived in Paris on Tuesday and will mingle with global elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos later this week. He’s already planning trips abroad months from now, is spending more time talking to the media — and, in an interview that aired earlier this month, even said Continue reading “Against odds, Tillerson hangs on — for now”

Leaked memo schooled Tillerson on human rights

Three months into his tenure as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson alarmed veteran diplomats with remarks that sounded like a potential shift in American foreign policy: The U.S., he said, should be careful not to let values like human rights create "obstacles" to the pursuit of its interests.

The comment, at a gathering of State Department employees, provoked an outcry among former U.S. officials and human rights activists who feared America was abandoning a vital mission. Two weeks later, a top Tillerson adviser wrote up a short tutorial, in the form of a confidential memo to his boss, recapping “the debate over how far to emphasize human rights, democracy promotion, and liberal values in American foreign policy.”

The May 17 memo reads like a crash course for a businessman-turned-diplomat, and its conclusion offers a starkly realist vision: that the U.S. should use human rights as Continue reading “Leaked memo schooled Tillerson on human rights”