US ambassadors flying to Washington despite shutdown

More than 150 US ambassadors are flying to Washington next week for the annual chief of mission conference, ...

Posted: Jan 12, 2019 2:33 AM
Updated: Jan 12, 2019 2:33 AM

More than 150 US ambassadors are flying to Washington next week for the annual chief of mission conference, even though State Department employees are not being paid as the government shutdown drags on.

The State Department has decided that the conference will go ahead and funding for the diplomat's travel has already been obligated after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave the green light.

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"The secretary has decided to proceed with the global Chiefs of Mission conference January 16-17, 2019, as scheduled, even if we are still in a lapse of appropriations, because it is essential to the conduct of foreign affairs essential to national security," a State Department official told CNN on Friday. "The timing of this conference is crucial to the safety, security and prosperity of the United States."

Pompeo wrote to State Department employees Friday confirming the conference would take place. "Bringing together the men and women who lead our overseas diplomatic missions is essential to successfully achieving our unified mission of advancing America's foreign policy," he wrote.

Bloomberg was first to report the conference is going ahead.

There are mixed views within the diplomatic community on the conference's importance to national security. Two former US ambassadors described the meetings as more of a bonding and convening exercise than a national security necessity. Other former ambassadors describe the meetings as "substantive."

"In those meetings you discuss all issues that are being faced in the region. When I was there we were dealing with ISIS, Syria, Iraq and serious problems with Lebanon and Yemen. We tried to get a sense of where we heading from a policy perspective," explained Joseph Westphal, the former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia. "I think they are absolutely necessary to national security. But the problem is that in some places we don't have ambassadors."

New ambassadors find it especially helpful -- and this is a point that the State Department considered when they decided that the meetings would go on.

"Given that the Senate has just confirmed 23 ambassadors, this conference is particularly important and timely in helping them get off to the right start as they assume their duties immediately," explained a State Department official.

The State Department has drawn down their workforce during the shutdown. There will be some strains on the meetings given the drawdown in the workforce at State, a State Department official said. But experts and diplomats who have visited the building over the last few weeks, amid the government shutdown, to discuss issues such as North Korea and Syria, say that the building is operating smoothly.

The conference was first held in 2011 but it did not take place during the first two years of the Trump presidency while Rex Tillerson was secretary of state.

Ambassador Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association, welcomed the decision.

"The partial government shutdown complicates the critical work of diplomacy as tough choices must be made about what to stop doing," she said. "That said, we in the US Foreign Service are determined to maintain the strong global leadership that has kept our country secure and prosperous for decades. Bringing American ambassadors together (for the first time in three years) clearly serves that goal."

The conference will be held at the State Department and the department says it is working to minimize the cost "as responsible stewards of our taxpayer dollars."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 313166

Reported Deaths: 7228
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21496257
Hinds20294414
Harrison17814309
Rankin13573278
Jackson13411246
Madison10066217
Lee9962173
Jones8364163
Forrest7649152
Lauderdale7181240
Lowndes6370145
Lamar621686
Lafayette6171118
Washington5323133
Bolivar4797132
Oktibbeha461498
Panola4561105
Pearl River4499145
Marshall4397103
Warren4380121
Pontotoc419572
Monroe4100133
Union409076
Neshoba4026176
Lincoln3950110
Hancock377786
Leflore3487125
Sunflower335790
Tate332484
Pike3301105
Scott315373
Alcorn311968
Yazoo310769
Itawamba299477
Copiah296465
Simpson294788
Coahoma294379
Tippah287768
Prentiss279560
Adams269582
Marion268880
Leake266273
Wayne262341
Grenada260386
Covington256381
George246848
Newton246061
Winston226881
Tishomingo225967
Jasper220848
Attala214173
Chickasaw207157
Holmes188673
Clay184754
Stone182033
Tallahatchie178140
Clarke177879
Calhoun170132
Yalobusha163337
Smith162234
Walthall133845
Greene130333
Lawrence128323
Montgomery126742
Noxubee126734
Perry125938
Amite122842
Carroll121728
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104826
Claiborne102230
Benton99125
Humphreys96133
Kemper95428
Franklin83623
Quitman80216
Choctaw76118
Wilkinson66930
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50317
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 530988

Reported Deaths: 10978
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson765291522
Mobile40971804
Madison34751503
Tuscaloosa25775452
Montgomery24329589
Shelby23431249
Baldwin21131308
Lee15884171
Calhoun14501314
Morgan14293279
Etowah13831353
Marshall12222223
Houston10567281
Elmore10061205
Limestone9960151
Cullman9664193
St. Clair9655243
Lauderdale9424241
DeKalb8830186
Talladega8223176
Walker7235277
Autauga6920108
Jackson6810112
Blount6660137
Colbert6298134
Coffee5511119
Dale4831111
Russell441138
Chilton4290112
Franklin425782
Covington4121118
Tallapoosa4027152
Escambia393376
Chambers3563123
Dallas3551151
Clarke351061
Marion3118101
Pike310877
Lawrence300298
Winston274472
Bibb260764
Geneva249977
Marengo249764
Pickens234461
Barbour230857
Hale222977
Butler215969
Fayette212362
Henry188744
Cherokee184845
Randolph180241
Monroe177440
Washington167339
Macon159150
Clay156256
Crenshaw152257
Cleburne148941
Lamar142535
Lowndes138853
Wilcox127130
Bullock123041
Conecuh110529
Perry107726
Coosa107228
Sumter104532
Greene92334
Choctaw60624
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