Politics in the age of President Donald Trump (and Twitter) being what they are, there’s a natural tendency to have a very short memory. What happened Monday feels like a month ago. What happened yesterday is sometimes hard to remember.
But here’s something that happened yesterday that shouldn’t be so quickly forgotten: The secretary of state, while on official business in Jerusalem, delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention promoting Trump’s bid for a second term.
It’s hard to overstate how large a break with past precedent the speech represents. “The Secretary of State is speaking at the RNC!” tweeted Glenn Kessler, a longtime State Department reporter for The Washington Post. “My jaw dropped when i saw the speaker list. In my decade of covering diplomacy, I could never imagine that happening.”
Kessler noted that Colin Powell, secretary of state for George W. Bush, said in 2004 that “I am obliged not to participate in any way, shape, fashion, or form in parochial, political debates.” Kessler also recounts this of Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s secretary of state in 2008: “Off the record, she was keenly interested in the race, constantly checking the Real Clear Politics website. But she made sure she was far away from public partisanship.”
Aside from the look of the nation’s top diplomat appearing as a booster of the President’s reelection, there’s the legality of it. Under the Hatch Act, no federal employee is allowed to engage in overtly political activity. Which speaking at a political convention quite clearly is.
How did the White House get around this? It argued Pompeo was appearing at the convention as a private citizen. Which is weird, since he was in Jerusalem doing official business.
There are so many boundaries crossed on a daily basis in the Trump White House that it’s easy to a) lump them all together or b) forget about them within a day.
This is not one of them. Pompeo’s willingness to make political a job that his predecessors in the role fiercely fought to keep independent isn’t something to just let slide.
The Point: Pompeo didn’t just break a boundary. He smashed it to pieces.