It took only two answers for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to undermine America’s democratic example during a Tuesday press conference.
The nation’s top diplomat briefed reporters on some of his agency’s new initiatives. But he had to know he’d get questions on President Donald Trump’s refusal to concede the 2020 election and his administration’s refusal to initiate the transition process to hand over power to President-elect Joe Biden.
Sure enough, a journalist asked whether a delay in the State Department’s transition efforts would harm national security. Instead of answering the question, Pompeo used the opportunity to undermine the election results.
“There will be a smooth transition to a second Trump administration,” he said, seemingly implying he expects his boss to prevail despite already having lost the race. He then chuckled, suggesting perhaps he was joking. (I contacted the State Department for clarification but didn’t immediately hear back.)
But joke or no, the president of the United States and his allies actively undermining the peaceful, democratic transfer of power is no laughing matter, and certainly not something the secretary of state should be making light of.
Biden has won the race, and by a significant margin. Trump’s legal play to dismiss “illegal” votes isn’t working — in fact, judges are throwing out cases across the country — and they likely aren’t robust enough to change anything, anyway. Furthermore, global leaders, like Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’s Angela Merkel, have already called Biden to congratulate him on his victory.
Suggesting otherwise, even jokingly, is extremely inappropriate for the secretary of state, whose job involves standing up for and promoting democracy worldwide.
Pompeo’s follow-up comments were a bit more measured. “The world is watching what’s taking place here. We’re gonna count all the votes. When the process is complete, there will be electors selected. There’s a process; the Constitution lays it out pretty clearly,” Pompeo said. “The world should have every confidence that the transition necessary to make sure that the State Department is functional today, successful today, and successful with a president who’s in office on January 20, a minute after noon, will also be successful.”
But when another reporter asked if Trump’s refusal to concede was hurting the State Department’s messaging to other nations that elections should be conducted and finalized freely, fairly, and democratically, Pompeo erupted.
“That’s ridiculous, and you know it’s ridiculous, and you asked it because it’s ridiculous,” he asserted. “You asked a question that is ridiculous.”
“The department cares deeply to make sure that elections around the world are safe and secure, and free and fair, and my officers risk their lives that that happens,” he continued.
.@SecPompeo, asked by @humeyra_pamuk whether Trump's refusal to concede undermines @StateDept messaging about conducting fair elections, says, "That’s ridiculous and you know it’s ridiculous and you asked it because it’s ridiculous. You asked a question that is ridiculous."— Nicole Gaouette (@NicoleCNN) November 10, 2020
Except the question wasn’t ridiculous.
Pompeo and his agency frequently criticize other countries’ democratic failures — take, for instance, Pompeo’s recent messages to Tanzania and Belarus — while watching the US president do the same thing at home. And now, based on Pompeo’s remarks, the State Department is actually defending those actions.
This is a bad look for America. Trump’s behavior, and Pompeo’s apparent support for it, makes it harder for the US to tell other countries to abide by democratic norms. If the US doesn’t follow those norms, why should others?
What all this says about the state of America is extremely troubling: The president and secretary of state aren’t doing much better than the undemocratic leaders they lambaste.