come out, come out, wherever you are
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has stayed largely "offstage" since being confirmed, marking a curious break from traditions that have been honored by past presidential administrations, The Washington Post reports. Despite the fact that daily press briefings have been a fixture for the secretary of state since John Foster Dulles held the role in the 1950s, Tillerson has yet to do a televised Q&A. He has also been conspicuously absent from meetings with world leaders including the Canadian and Japanese prime ministers as well as President Trump's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many onlookers believe Tillerson's diminished role is not his fault; White House chaos and disarray could simply be leaving him with nothing to say. "Tillerson isn't being purposefully sidelined; he's just caught up in an administration with too many competing power centers and a president who's unwilling or unable to decide who he wants to play the lead role in implementing his foreign policy," said former diplomat Aaron David, who has worked with both Republican and Democratic presidents.
"I think it's hard to go out and talk to the press if you don't know what to say," added Richard Boucher, a diplomat who has also served both parties.
But Tillerson's absence can sometimes mean that the American people are learning about the goings-on of the State Department through foreign governments' briefings to their press:
In some cases, governments of countries that are not democracies have been more transparent than the State Department. Phone conversations Tillerson had with the foreign ministers of Russia and Egypt as well as a phone conversation with Saudi Arabia's King Salman came to light only when the officials told their local press about them.
"It behooves the administration to give our side of any conversation," said Richard Stengel, the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs from 2014 through 2016 in the Obama administration. "Having someone put points on the scoreboard and not taking the shot yourself seems peculiar to me." [The Washington Post]
The Washington Post notes that it is still early in Tillerson's tenure — but that previous transitions between administrations have managed to seamlessly integrate the new secretary of state. Read the full report at The Washington Post.