For decades, U.S. ambassadors politically appointed by an outgoing president have been able to request an extension until Congress confirms their replacement, selected by an incoming president, but President-elect Donald Trump has informed all such ambassadors that they must resign by Jan. 20 “without exceptions,” according to a Dec. 23 State Department cable described to The New York Times. This will leave many key U.S. allies — Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan — without a U.S. ambassador for up to several months, but it also has envoys with school-age children — as Trump does — scrambling to figure out what to do.
“Political” ambassadors, as opposed to career diplomats, often have close ties to a president or donated to their campaigns, and they always leave when a new president from a different party takes office, says Ronald E. Neumann, president of the Washington-based American Academy of Diplomacy. “But I don’t recollect there was ever a guillotine in January where it was just, ‘Everybody out of the pool immediately.'” The U.S. ambassadors to the Czech Republic, Belgium, and Costa Rica, and America’s U.N. representative in Geneva, all have children in the middle of school years, and the Costa Rica envoy, Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, is scrambling to find an apartment for himself, his wife (who’s fighting breast cancer), and his four school-age children, The New York Times reports.
Giving ambassadors a grace period is up to the incoming administrations, and a Trump transition official tells The Times there is no malice in the blanket mandate. Derek Shearer, a former U.S. ambassador to Finland and diplomacy professor at Occidental College, says he doesn’t see any other rationale. “It feels like there’s an element just of spite and payback in it,” he told The Times. “I don’t see a higher policy motive.” Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was especially accommodating, according to former diplomat Marc Grossman. “He was trying to, I think, send a message that family was important.” Peter Weber