First State Department Press Briefing of Trump Administration Canceled

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Where’d you go, Rex? Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The State Department hasn’t held a daily press briefing since January 19, the last full day of the Obama administration. That nearly six-week break was supposed to end Monday, March 6 — but the wait continues for at least another day. The first daily press briefing under Trump was canceled so as reportedly not to compete with the announcement of the White House’s new executive order on travel. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared with Department of Homeland Security secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the rollout of the new measure to restrict travel from six majority-Muslim countries and to temporarily suspend resettlement of refugees.

The State Department daily briefings date back to the Eisenhower administration. The sessions are seen as a key communication tool for America’s diplomatic agenda, giving guidance to those in foreign service representing the U.S. abroad and broadcasting policy priorities to allies and adversaries and to the few people watching the televised sessions on C-Span. According to the Washington Post, former secretary of State John Kerry had in his first month given a welcome address when he assumed the role of top diplomat, a speech at the University of Virginia, and 15 readouts. Tillerson reportedly will not do anything similar. Acting spokesman for the State Department Mark Toner confirmed to Politico that he will lead the press briefing. But Toner, who is a career civil servant, might not even be at his post much longer; he will reportedly soon be replaced by Fox & Friends news anchor Heather Nauert.

The lack of public communication from the State Department, and Tillerson’s relative silence — he addressed State Department employees after he was sworn in, and delivered very brief remarks after meeting with his Russian counterpart in Bohn, but has mostly dodged questions from reporters — has led to speculation that Tillerson has been sidelined by a White House that is reluctant to let its State Department take the lead on foreign-policy decisions. Trump is expected to slash the State Department budget — perhaps by a third. Such drastic cuts will likely face bipartisan opposition, and have gotten pushback from retired military leaders — and from Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

First Trump State Department Press Briefing Canceled