After refusing to recognize Joe Biden’s victory in the U.S. presidential election, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is suddenly so dedicated to a smooth and orderly transition that he canceled a trip to Brussels to focus on passing the baton.
According to a State Department press release issued Tuesday, just hours before Pompeo’s scheduled departure, the trip — billed as his final voyage abroad as U.S. President Donald Trump’s top envoy — was scrapped to ensure a “smooth and orderly transition.”
“We are expecting shortly a plan from the incoming administration identifying the career officials who will remain in positions of responsibility on an acting basis until the Senate confirmation process is complete for incoming officials,” the press release said.
But other officials said the cancellation was more a case of American snobbery being answered by European snubbery: Pompeo abandoned the trip because European officials balked at seeing him after last week’s deadly riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol.
Earlier Tuesday, before news of Pompeo’s cancellation, the European Commission said that no EU official would meet the secretary of state. A spokesman declined to elaborate further on the reasons or decision-making process.
Pompeo had also planned to see Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, but European officials said that meeting was called off. A day after the violent uprising at the Capitol, Asselborn had told Luxembourg Radio that Trump was a “political pyromaniac who must be brought before a court.”
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel had similarly denounced the riot in Washington, tweeting: “The violences against the #Capitol are a heinous attack on the foundations of democracy and the freedom of press. We trust in the strength of the American people and institutions to overcome these times of division & look to President-elect @JoeBiden to take on this task.”
A confrontation between Pompeo and Asselborn could have been all the more embarrassing given that one of the main areas of compensation between Washington and Luxembourg in recent years has been on the issue of reparations for assets stolen from Luxembourg’s Jewish community during the Holocaust. Neo-Nazi sympathizers and anti-Semitism featured prominently in the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol, including one rioter wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt and others bearing the slogan “6MWE,” meaning “six million wasn’t enough” — a reference to Jewish Holocaust victims.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who worked diligently over the last four years to maintain Trump’s support for the alliance, had announced that he would meet Pompeo on Wednesday. But a press bulletin specified, “There will be no media opportunity.”
Pompeo telephoned Stoltenberg on Tuesday to inform him that he was canceling the visit shortly before the State Department issued its press release.
In Brussels, Pompeo was also scheduled to see Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès.
Trump spent much of his term denigrating America’s historic European allies, berating them over meager military spending, calling the EU a “foe” and claiming that the bloc was created to take advantage of the U.S.
Pompeo has had a similarly rough relationship with Brussels, including a badly-received December 2018 speech in Brussels in which he criticized multilateralism “as an end to itself,” bashed bureaucrats, and made an impassioned case for Trump-style nationalism, asserting “sovereignty before the international order.”
The State Department’s explanation for the cancellation of the trip made little sense.
Pompeo has resisted acknowledging Biden’s victory, out of evident loyalty to Trump, and only met with Biden’s designated secretary of state, Antony Blinken, on Friday, two days after the melee at the Capitol.
On the one hand, the State Department press release insisted that the agency was “well along in its transition efforts,” has “been fully engaged for several weeks,” and was “pleased with the level of cooperation and professionalism.”
But then it asserted that Pompeo needed to stay in Washington, saying “we are canceling all planned travel this week, including the Secretary’s trip to Europe” while awaiting the Biden team’s plan “identifying the career officials who will remain in positions of responsibility on an acting basis.”
It was unclear why Pompeo’s attention would be needed for career officials who are remaining in their posts.
A week after the U.S. election, with Biden’s victory already projected following days of ballot-counting, Pompeo had insisted at a televised briefing that “there will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.”
“The world is watching what’s taking place here,” Pompeo said. “We are going to count all the votes. When the process is complete, there will be electors selected. There is a process. The Constitution lays it out pretty clearly.”
It was that process that the Trump rioters sought to derail.
Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.
Pompeo non grata, or just too busy? Secretary of state cancels Europe trip The British Journal Editors and Wire Services/ Politico.