He said only that the selection process is ongoing to the first issue, and that the State Department and White House are working closely on the second. It’s still unclear if those roles will ever be filled, and who’s in charge of executing a new peace plan.
If there was one thing Toner tried to make clear, it’s that Tillerson’s State Department rejects the idea that it’s been diminished.
“Secretary Tillerson is very engaged with the White House, very engaged with the President, speaks to him frequently,” he said. “I can assure everyone that the Secretary’s voice, or the State Department’s voice, is heard loud and clear in policy discussions.”
That contrasts in some ways with what’s unfolded so far, with Tillerson absent from meetings with world leaders or reportedly not consulted before major decisions like the first travel ban or a change in Middle East peace policy.
And fueling the image of a sidelined State Department are reports that the budget could be cut by one-third. Toner refuted that number, but made clear that while it’s early in the budget process, changes are in the works.
“What his goal, what senior staff’s goal here at the State Department is to say, OK where can we possibly move resources to, reevaluate resources, reassess, perhaps make cuts if we feel that’s necessary,” he said of Tillerson.
In particular, he said the new administration will review “who receives foreign assistance, how much they receive, whether that much is still needed,” and after the briefing, a senior administration official said the administration believed there were too many special envoys -- a prime target for cuts.