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The problem with a post-Tillerson State Department

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Donald Trump may be denying it, but there seems no doubt that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is a marked man.

Last month the speculation was on how soon United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley would replace Tillerson. Last week, a fresh burst of reports signaled the end for the secretary – who has not denied he once called Trump a moron – and named CIA director Mike Pompeo as a favorite to succeed him.

Trump was quick to tweet out a response: “The media has been speculating that I fired Rex Tillerson or that he would be leaving soon - FAKE NEWS! He’s not leaving and while we disagree on certain subjects, (I call the final shots) we work well together and America is highly respected again!” Trump may be sincere, or he may be buying time to avoid confrontational confirmation hearings for a new candidate at a fraught time for an administration mired in the Russia scandal.

But whether Tillerson leaves now or later, it’s important to look at what lies ahead for the State Department.

It is unclear whether Pompeo can succeed where Tillerson failed. The climate for political appointees in Washington today feels more like that of a lame-duck presidency; many of the old standbys are not interested in signing up for what may turn out to be short-run jobs. That leaves a small pool for Pompeo to fill the State Department’s many unfilled posts. Pompeo's tenure at the Central Intelligence Agency was brief enough that he is unlikely to bring over many loyalists, and most at CIA headquarters in Langley see working for State as a kind of step down anyway (many at the Agency view themselves as jocks to State’s nerds.)

There is also the culture issue. Pompeo’s hard-line stances at the CIA rubbed many........

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