U.S. President-elect Donald Trump is requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day on January 20, though in the past many envoys have been given more time to close out their personal affairs.
According to U.S. media reports on January 6, the mandate was issued "without exceptions" in a terse State Department cable sent on December 23.
Besides forcing many diplomats and their families to scramble to make living arrangements on short notice, the move threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada, and Britain.
In the past, administrations of both parties have often granted extensions on a case-by-case basis to allow a handful of ambassadors, particularly those with school-age children, to remain in place for weeks or months.
Trump, by contrast, has taken a hard line against leaving any of President Barack Obama’s political appointees in place as he prepares to carry out his pledges to dismantle, change, or abandon signature Obama achievements ranging from the Paris climate change agreement to the Iran nuclear deal and the Obamacare health-insurance law.
Politically appointed ambassadors often are major campaign donors who were nominated because of their close ties and support for the president. They almost always depart when the president leaves office, while ambassadors who are career diplomats often remain in their posts.
A senior Trump transition official told The New York Times that there was no ill will in ordering them out, describing it as a simple matter of ensuring that Obama’s overseas appointees leave the government on schedule, just as thousands of political aides at the White House and in federal agencies must do. The official said the ambassadors should not be surprised about being held to a hard end date.
Nevertheless, diplomats said the directive has upended the personal lives of many ambassadors, who are scrambling to secure living arrangements and acquire visas allowing them to remain in their countries so their children can remain in school.
In the Czech Republic, Ambassador Andrew H. Schapiro is said to be seeking housing in Prague as well as lobbying his children’s Chicago-based school to break with policy and accept them back midyear.
In Brussels and Geneva, Denise Bauer, the United States ambassador to Belgium, and Pamela Hamamoto, the permanent representative to the United Nations, are both trying to find a way to keep daughters from having to move just months before their high school graduations.
U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said it was "common" procedure for all politically appointed ambassadors to step down as a new U.S. administration comes in.
"All political appointees for the Obama administration were directed to submit their resignation and the due date was December 7, and the resignations are to take effect on January 20," Kirby told reporters in Washington.
"That is common, typical practice...That's the way it works," Kirby said.
Kirby said no career diplomats serving as ambassadors had been asked to resign by the Trump transition team.
He acknowledged, however, that in the past there had been exceptions made for a small number of political appointees to stay on for a short time for personal reasons. "But that is totally in the prerogative of the incoming administration," he said.
With reporting by Reuters and The New York Times