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The Trump administration has cleared out the top ranks at the State Department. Career diplomats in charge of whole regions, like Africa and Asia, left this week. Many of the vacant positions require Senate confirmation, and the White House is not rushing to fill those slots. Foreign governments have noticed the vacuum, as has Congress, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Trump administration has yet to fill dozens of diplomatic jobs aside from secretary of state, U.N. ambassador and ambassador to Israel, who is awaiting full Senate confirmation. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin of Maryland, has taken note.
BEN CARDIN: And we've had lots of hearings, and we have not had any trump presentations at any of those hearings because there's no one to speak on behalf of the Trump administration.
KELEMEN: The latest hearing was on Yemen, and Cardin says it would have been nice to hear from the administration which has already conducted a military raid there.
CARDIN: I mean Yemen is - it could explode. It's already boiling, and yet we don't have a policy for Yemen. That's just one example.
KELEMEN: This week the House Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing into Russian disinformation campaigns in Europe and the U.S. And the Republican chairman, Ed Royce, warned that Russia is trying to discredit Western democratic institutions and splinter NATO.
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ED ROYCE: I'm afraid it is no exaggeration to say the long-term future of the European security order and America's role as an Atlantic power is at risk.
KELEMEN: Again, there were no Trump administration officials to speak. The administration has reportedly decided on an ambassador to Russia, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. So lawmakers might soon be able to ask him questions at a future confirmation hearing. But Senate aides say there are no confirmation hearings on the schedule.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: So we're sitting next to the ambassador.
KELEMEN: At a luncheon the day before he was inaugurated, President Trump pointed to New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, calling him ambassador to the Court of St. James. But Trump has not yet formally nominated Johnson to be the ambassador to the U.K. The Senate is still waiting for all the paperwork for former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to be ambassador to China and for two career diplomats who have been nominated to serve in Congo and Senegal. When asked about all this, a White House official said only, I have no updates.
The White House also hasn't named a deputy secretary of state or any undersecretaries. Career diplomats are filling in. But as Maryland Senator Cardin points out, Congress can't call them up to the Hill to speak on behalf of the Trump administration's policies.
CARDIN: It wouldn't be fair. So that's not useful.
KELEMEN: And there are questions about the State Department's influence with this White House. Mexico's foreign minister came to Washington this week, and the State Department spokesman didn't even know. The delegation was here to meet President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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