In a stunning clinic on how to make a major state decision with global implications with less gravitas and forethought than the finale of The Bachelor, Trump announced yesterday via Twitter that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was being fired. Tillerson will be replaced with Mike Pompeo, currently director of the CIA (also a Trump appointment); Pompeo will be replaced in his old role as director by Gina Haspel.
Aside from the bizarre logistics of the firing — the erstwhile secretary of state apparently had no warning about losing his position, and found out from Twitter along with the rest of the world — the substance of the replacement is worrying as well. Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, was a little like having Uncle Pennybags of Monopoly as Secretary of State. In contrast, Pompeo is a more committed religious and social conservative, with a set of values and political vision that aren’t far from Mike Pence.
When running for Congressional representative in Kansas Pompeo’s platform hung together on far-right buzz phrases, from “the illegal immigration that puts our nation at risk” to “terrorists continue to seek a way to destroy the American way of life.” As Pompeo’s career has progressed, his anti-LGBT views and opinions have increasingly been spotlighted. As a representative, he:
“…opposed same-sex marriage, opposed workplace protections for the LGBTQ community, supported legislation to make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of “religious freedom, and voted against an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act. He earned a zero percent rating on the HRC’s congressional scorecard for votes on LGBTQ-related matters during the 112th and 114th Congresses, and a meager 30% during the 113th Congress.”
During the hearings to confirm Pompeo as CIA director, Kamala Harris pressed him on whether he would be able to be an equitable boss for the CIA’s LGBTQ employees: “Can you commit to me that your personal views on this issue will remain your personal views and will not impact internal policies that you put in place at the CIA?” Pompeo assured her that he would treat his federal employees with “dignity and respect.” Outside of that hearing, however, Pompeo has also said he supported Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, opposed marriage equality, and that pro-LGBT Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality and religious freedom were “a shocking abuse of power” that “flies in the face of centuries of shared understanding of our Constitution” as well as “sad and counter to the most profound tradition of our great nation.”
Most recently, as CIA director, Pompeo canceled a speech that was scheduled to be delivered by the parents of Matthew Shepard on diversity and LGBT rights at the CIA building. Specifically pertinent to his work as future Secretary of State, Pompeo has met with the Family Research Council, which previously supported anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda. Among the duties of the Secretary of State is advising the President on foreign relations, enforcing foreign policy and maintaining relationships with world leaders; having one in office who doesn’t think that LGBT people are deserving of protections on US soil is a grim suggestion of how Pompeo might act (or not) when it comes to governments abroad who threaten their LGBT citizens with violence.
Pompeo will head the Department of State while Sam Brownback, also of Kansas, is the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. A Pence pick, Brownback got rid of protections for LGBT state employees when he was governor, forced public universities to provide funding to anti-gay groups, and signed an executive order allowing religious organizations to refuse services to LGBT people. His confirmation hearing brought up some extremely concerning views that were, unfortunately, ultimately not an obstacle to his being confirmed:
LGBTQ advocates have noted that the most concerning aspect of Brownback’s elevation to the religious freedom post was his response to a question during his confirmation hearing about whether “religious freedom” could be used as a justification for imprisoning or executing LGBTQ people in nations where homosexuality is criminalized. Even under pressure from Democratic senators, Brownback refused to provide a clear answer to that question, also failing to explicitly condemn the practice of executing LGBTQ people abroad.
The story of Tillerson’s firing seems to be largely about Trump’s ego, and frustration that Tillerson pushed back on issues ranging from North Korea to Iran to overall diplomatic strategy. The story of Pompeo’s hiring, however, and of the overall culture of the State Department right now, seems to be that Pence’s ideology is taking a stronger hold than ever before in the federal government. Although some may find some measure of comfort in the Trump administration’s flailing and rootlessness in recent weeks, that doesn’t mean that Pence and other die-hard evangelicals in the administration aren’t using it as a chance to shore up power and solidify the positions of true believers who share their goals.