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Mike Pompeo's convention speech while on state trip seen as defying tradition

Mike Pompeo's planned speech to the Republican National Convention this week has sparked criticism for breaking decades of precedent for sitting U.S. secretaries of state avoiding overt partisan political activity.

U.S. State Department says Pompeo will speak Tuesday in a personal capacity, not as secretary of state

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a joint statement to the media with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting in Jerusalem on Monday. (Debbie Hill/The Associated Press)

Mike Pompeo's planned speech to the Republican National Convention this week has sparked criticism for breaking decades of precedent for sitting U.S. secretaries of state avoiding overt partisan political activity.

Despite State Department assurances that Pompeo will be speaking in his personal capacity and won't violate prohibitions on federal employees participating in public political events on duty, Democrats and others have cried foul. They accuse the country's top diplomat of inappropriate behaviour that has been anathema to his predecessors.

Four teams of lawyers, including the State Department legal counsel, have reviewed the speech that will be recorded in Jerusalem and broadcast in prime time at the Republican convention on Tuesday to ensure that it does not cross ethical lines, according to a person close to Pompeo who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

That person and the State Department said no taxpayer money will be used in the production of the video, which will be filmed on the first stop of Pompeo's current multicountry trip to the Middle East that is otherwise clearly dominated by official government business.

"Looking forward to sharing with you how my family is more SAFE and more SECURE because of President Trump," Pompeo tweeted after the RNC announced his appearance. The State Department followed quickly with comments distancing the agency from the planned remarks.

"Secretary Pompeo will address the convention in his personal capacity," the department said. "No State Department resources will be used. Staff are not involved in preparing the remarks or in the arrangements for Secretary Pompeo's appearance. The State Department will not bear any costs in conjunction with this appearance."

The person close to Pompeo said the short address would focus on Trump's accomplishments in making Americans and the world safer and promoting his "America First" foreign policy.

The speech will not delve into Pompeo's own activities as secretary of state, according to the person who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Pompeo is likely to tout Trump's Mideast policies and the recent agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations.

Democrats and other critics, though, say that doesn't matter and that Pompeo is violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the law, known as the Hatch Act, by using government resources to travel to the venue and jeopardizing long-standing tradition that domestic politics ends at the water's edge when it comes to diplomacy.

"Mr. Pompeo should show real respect for American law, diplomacy, and diplomats, and should follow his own [department] guidance, cancel the speech,and watch the RNC from his hotel room after the workday is done," said Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, the chair of the House's foreign affairs committee.

In using Jerusalem as the venue, Pompeo is seen by administration critics as further politicizing the U.S.-Israel relationship with a pitch for President Donald Trump's re-election.

"It is unprecedented and highly unethical for a sitting secretary of state to address a political convention while on official foreign travel," said Halie Soifer, the head of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

"In addition to violating the Hatch Act, Secretary Pompeo's plans to speak at the Republican National Convention from Jerusalem underscore the president's ongoing effort to politicize the U.S.-Israel relationship."

Melania, 2 Trump children on tap to address convention

Trump has proudly claimed the mantle of being the country's most pro-Israel president ever and pointed to his decisions to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, move the U.S. Embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv, recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and sideline the Palestinians as proof.

Such actions have won him high praise from conservative Israelis and American Jews but also appealed strongly to evangelical Christians in the United State whose support Trump is counting on November.

While previous secretaries of state have naturally supported the policies of the presidents they served, they have steered clear of public political endorsements, sometimes going to great lengths to avoid their parties' conventions. So Pompeo's decision to take time out of his official schedule in Israel to record the speech has raised eyebrows.

Previous secretaries of state have shunned overtly partisan rhetoric, and some have made a deliberate point of being out of the country and unavailable during their political parties' presidential nominating events.

Like two of his predecessors, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, both of whom were unsuccessful Democratic Party nominees for president, Pompeo was a member of Congress before joining the executive branch. But both Clinton and Kerry skipped the Democratic National Convention while they served as America's top diplomat.

WATCH l Trump poised to speak early and often at convention:

Trump makes pitch for re-election as Republican National Convention starts

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U.S. President Donald Trump makes his case for re-election after officially clinching his party’s nomination at the kickoff to the Republican National Convention. 3:15

The theme for Tuesday evening at the convention is the "Land of Opportunity," with other speakers planning to highlight Trump's policies on trade, abortion and the opioid crisis. Two of the president's children, Eric Trump and Tiffany Trump, are scheduled, along with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi and Navajo Nation vice-president Myron Lizer.

Other speakers include anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson; Maine lobsterman Jason Joyce; Mary Ann Mendoza, an Arizona woman whose police officer son was killed in an accident caused by a man in the country illegally; and Nicholas Sandmann, a Kentucky teenager who gained attention last year for a widely shared video of his interaction with an Indigenous man, Nathan Phillips, during demonstrations in Washington.

It was later found that there was widespread misreporting of the circumstances of the incident at the demonstration, leading to several lawsuits filed on behalf of Sandmann.

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