President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he will appoint John Sullivan, a former Bush administration official, to the position of Deputy Secretary of State - the second highest ranking diplomat in the U.S. State Department. The appointment will need to receive the confirmation of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the entire Senate.
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Sullivan served in senior positions in the Justice, Defense and Commerce departments in the past, including a stint as Deputy Secretary of Commerce for the George W. Bush administration between 2007 and 2009. Prior to serving in the Commerce Department, he was General Counsel from 2005 top 2007, and Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Defense before that. In recent years, he led the United States-Iraq Business Dialogue, a committee focused on enhancing trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.
Sullivan is the first person Trump has nominated to the senior position of Deputy Secretary of State, but not the first to be considered for the job. Early on in his administration, Trump looked at former ambassador to the UN John Bolton as a possible candidate, but decided not to nominate him, after it became clear that Bolton would not pass the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Trump then was persuaded by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to offer the position to Elliott Abrams, a former senior official in the Bush and Reagan administrations. Abrams met Trump at the White House in February and administration officials were already briefing the press that the job would be his, but then Trump discovered that Abrams spoke out against him during the Republican primaries in 2016 - and decided to stop all communications with him.
Sullivan's name came up as a leading candidate a few weeks after Abrams' rejection. The White House announced last night that in addition to being titled deputy secretary, he will also take on the position of Deputy for Management and Resources. In essence, Sullivan's role will be to manage the day-to-day business of the department, while Tillerson grows accustomed to his role as the United States' chief diplomat. Tillerson has no prior government experience, and Sullivan, despite having no prior history at the State Department itself, brings a lot of experience from his previous positions in Washington.
The fact that it took the Trump administration almost three months to nominate someone to the position is highly unusual. In general, the Trump administration's slow pace of appointments to fill hundreds of government positions left vacant after the end of the previous administration, is unprecedented. The administration is now expected to push the Senate for a fast authorization process for Sullivan, but Senators could push back, saying that the administration's long internal deliberation process should not stop the Senate from considering his nomination for as much as it needs to.