The State Department postponed a highly anticipated news briefing Monday, telling reporters it would not be held because Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other administration officials were appearing before media at the roll out of President Trump’s revised executive order temporarily banning visitors from six Mideast and African countries.
While Mr. Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared at an event broadcast on live television to formally unveil Mr. Trump’s new order, all three ignored questions shouted by reporters in a development that created fresh frustration among news organizations over the administration’s posture toward the the press.
The White House has held daily press briefings since just after Mr. Trump was inaugurated in January. But the State Department, which has held such briefings on weekdays for decades, has not had one for more than six weeks. Department officials, who’ve pushed back against criticism over the situation, had told reporters last week that the first Trump-era briefing would be held Monday.
The event was anticipated to be a spectacle, with dozens of reporters from the U.S. and international news organizations planning to attend at State Department headquarters before the department’s press office announced the sudden postponement on Monday morning. The office said it now intends to hold the briefing on Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Recent weeks have brought heated back-and-forth exchanges, meanwhile, between reporters and department officials over reports that Mr. Tillerson has avoid the press while the Trump administration has made almost no movement toward appointing a senior manager to support the new secretary of state.
The Washington Times reported last month that Mr. Tillerson’s visit to Mexico City at the time was occurring at a moment of tremendous uncertainty inside the department, where more than dozen key assistant secretary positions are still without even a proposed nominee from the White House.
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There is still no deputy secretary of state and no clear sign of when that and other high-level diplomatic positions will be filled. The department’s press office and Mr. Tillerson’s office have declined to comment on the more than 100 management posts and foreign ambassadorships awaiting even a nominee, let alone a Senate confirmation. Just three ambassadors — to China, Israel and Britain — have been named.
Officials speaking on background have sought to reject the image of Mr. Tillerson as a general who has no troops to lead into battle. Appointments take time, said one official, who stressed that midlevel career diplomats are working as acting managers for most of the department’s many bureaus.
With that as a backdrop, perhaps the most notable public change at Foggy Bottom has been the halt of the daily press briefings, which, while not as theatrical as the highly publicized and televised White House briefings, have been held on a near-daily basis on weekdays since the 1950s, when John Foster Dulles was secretary of state.
Since 2012, the briefings have been live-streamed on the department’s website and are known to be watched closely by allies and adversaries alike as the central public conduit through which official American foreign policy is projected. The daily briefing is also often the first place to hear any changes or subtle adjustments to those policies in the careful answers prepared by the department’s various agencies and embassies.
The absence of briefings since Jan. 20 — the day before Mr. Trump was inaugurated — has prompted unease among some of the reporters who regularly cover the department. By comparison, 18 daily press briefings were held in same period after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was sworn in under President Obama in 2009.