“Global cooperation between the public and private sectors will make the difference: we will #StopTheSpread together, ”Pompeo tweeted on Tuesday shortly before he held a press conference to talk about the virus, among other things.
Pompeo’s increased visibility over the past week follows an intense criticism of its performance during the coronavirus crisis. Critics include his own staff, many of whom were already upset about the treatment of professional diplomats during the impeachment scandal that hit President Donald Trump.
U.S. diplomats, lawmakers, and others had accused Pompeo of being largely AWOL, as his department dealt with the transportation of tens of thousands of Americans who are stuck abroad and turning back embassy services abroad, amidst general confusion about social distancing measures.
Pompeo had not only failed to offer leadership, the critics said, he cynically used the pandemic to fight US opponents – especially China and Iran – and to undermine global cooperation against the virus when it was urgently needed .
“He was largely absent,” said Tom Wright, a Brookings Institution foreign scientist who closely follows Pompeo’s steps. “What we know he did was not very helpful.”
Pompeo mocked especially when he posted a picture of himself and his wife on his personal Twitter account on March 21, watched a classic Tom Cruise film and put together a puzzle. “Susan and I stay in this afternoon and do a puzzle. Pro tip: If you miss the beach, just put on Top Gun! “Pompeo wrote.
Democratic MP Ruben Gallego from Arizona was among those interviewed wrote: “I have voters who are stuck overseas. Can you detach yourself from your ass and take her home?”
In a later one TweetPompeo tried to suggest that he work at the same time, but the damage was done.
People near Pompeo acknowledge that his profile was lower than you would expect during an international crisis. But they contest the idea that he was absent and say that he kept an eye on the pandemic all the time, albeit often behind the scenes.
They point out that Pompeo has representatives from the State Department who work closely with the President, the Vice President, and others to respond to the corona virus. These aides include Deborah Birx, the United States official who oversees the fight against HIV / AIDS, and Stephen Biegun, the Assistant Secretary of State. Much of the internal coordination at Foggy Bottom has been done by other top Pompeo employees, but that’s because it’s their job, people close to the secretary say.
“I understand there are people in the State Department who have a different political belief than the secretary,” said one of the people. But “he made it very clear that he takes care of every employee.”
However, the person added that Pompeo plans to be more at the forefront on a variety of communication platforms in the coming days.
One reason why Pompeo may have been less well known as the virus crisis increased in January and February could be that Trump downplayed it himself. The president insisted that the United States would not suffer and the problem would go away.
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman from Kansas, has long been one of Trump’s closest advisers, and he accomplished this in part by almost never publicly contradicting his boss. He could have drawn Trump’s anger if he triggered the virus alarm.
But Pompeo’s unwillingness to be one step ahead of the president has also been reflected in the entire State Department, so ambassadors and other senior officials don’t know how to deal with the outbreak with their employees, as well as the public, current and former ministers .
His lack of urgency, the critics argue, added to the confusion as to whether US diplomats should hold meetings or go to work at all. “It has affected the State Department’s normal procedures and trip wires,” said Brett Bruen, a pronounced former US diplomat who is now working as a consultant.
Over the weeks, State Department officials have been particularly outraged that they heard so little directly from Pompeo. One complained that he “heard of a laundry service that I used five years ago, how they looked after their employees and customers, but nothing from the Secretary of State.”
Pompeo tried to correct this. On Friday, he sent a message entitled “Message from Mike: Resilience and Strength of Our Team” to the department, which was mainly about the virus crisis. (He only mentioned it briefly in a previous message.)