Saturday, July 11, 2009

White House "Unaware of Historic Norms" for Ambassadorial Appointments?

The Washington Times had a story yesterday that quoted unnamed "senior administration officials" and one named source, the acting president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), to the effect that the Obama administration was planning to exceed the normal 30/70 ratio of political appointees to professional ambassadors until AFSA interceded.

I find it very hard to believe the administration was unaware of the normal practice. Even assuming that was true of Obama and his core staff, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton certainly can't plead ignorance. More likely, the administration had more than the usual number of fundraisers standing in line waiting for appointments. In two lines, actually, since Hillary must have had her own list of people expecting quid pro quo for supporting her losing campaign.

Reading between the lines, it seems the story here is that Obama took precedence over Hillary in putting his friends and fundraisers forward for ambassadorial appointments, bumping her people out of line, until eventually she backed AFSA's protests to hold political appointees to the usual 30%. All in the public interest, of course, but I'm sure the fact that her people weren't in line anymore helped Hillary see where the public's interest lay.

Career diplomats protest Obama appointments:

The White House, unaware of historic norms, had been on track to give more than the usual 30 percent of ambassadorial jobs to political appointees until objections from career diplomats forced it to reconsider, administration officials say.

As a result of the reversal, some donors to President Obama's election campaign - as well as senior advisers and other supporters of the campaigns of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - are likely to find their hopes of being rewarded with an embassy dashed.

"The White House has come around, and we truly expect that, at the end of the process, the balance will be within historical norms," said one senior administration official who asked not to be named because he was discussing internal deliberations.

Mr. Obama has been criticized in recent weeks for continuing the tradition of handing out ambassadorships to major campaign donors with no experience in foreign affairs.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that an old college roommate, the head of an entertainment production company and a lawyer whose family made its money selling vacuum cleaners are among more than a dozen people who have been given ambassadorships after raising a total of at least $4 million for Mr. Obama's campaign, according to public records.

The decision to uphold the historic ratio of 30 percent political appointees and 70 percent career diplomats came only after members of the Foreign Service protested to White House staff and Mrs. Clinton's chief of staff, Cheryl D. Mills, officials said.

"There was some question about how sacrosanct the 30 percent was," the senior administration official said.

Although the 30-70 ratio is not official, "all administrations have adhered fairly closely to it in the last several decades," said Steven B. Kashkett, acting president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), the diplomats' union.The U.S. has 175 ambassadorial posts.

Senior political appointees at both the White House and the State Department apparently were not aware of past practice and were en route to exceeding 30 percent political appointees, several career diplomats said. That message was conveyed to Harry K. Thomas Jr., who until recently was director-general of the Foreign Service, they added.

Concerned that too many political supporters of Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Mrs. Clinton, who ran separate campaigns during last year's Democratic primaries, may be expecting to become ambassadors, career officials at the State Department alerted Ms. Mills several weeks ago. She raised the matter with Mrs. Clinton and later involved the White House, officials said.

"The thinking on this issue has evolved at the White House," the senior administration official said. "They have come to recognize its importance in light of the president's campaign promises."

He noted that those who expected jobs but will not get them now should not be too concerned, because the administration "will need talent later."

It was nice of the senior administration official to throw Hillary's people - both her fund raising people and her Foreign Service people - that bone. Don't despair, guys. Keep hoping. Your day will come. Any time now. If not in Obama's first term, then maybe in his second. Or certainly in Hillary's future administration, which will happen someday, but only you raise more and more money.


Hal said...

"Or certainly in Hillary's future administration, which will happen someday, but only you raise more and more money."

Highly unlikely.

A Secretary of State has not been elected President since James Buchanan in 1856. By taking the job, Ms. Clinton effectively took herself "off the board."

Now, if she runs for Governor somewhere first, that'll make it a lot more likely. But if not, then not.

TSB said...

I was being a little sarcastic about that. If Hillary wants to keep raising money (and she is still paying off several million in campaign debts) she'll need to keep the prospect of a Clinton Restoration out there in order to bring in the bucks.