President Trump says: “I’m the only one that matters” in setting U.S. foreign policy, thus downplaying the importance of high-level jobs such as the assistant secretary of state, which is currently vacant.
“Let me tell you, the one that matters is me,” Trump said in an interview that aired on Fox News on Thursday night. “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be. You’ve seen that, you’ve seen it strongly.”
The president was responding to a question from Fox’s Laura Ingraham, who asked him, “Are you worried that the State Department doesn’t have enough Donald Trump nominees in there to push your vision through?”
Ingraham added, “other State Departments, including Reagan’s, at times, undermined his agenda. And there is a concern that the State Department currently is undermining your agenda.”
Trump said, “So, we don’t need all the people that they want. You know, don’t forget, I’m a businessperson. I tell my people, ‘Where you don’t need to fill slots, don’t fill them.’ But we have some people that I’m not happy with their thinking process.”
Trump also briefly blamed Democrats for obstructing his nominees in the Republican-controlled Senate. He then said, “We don’t need all of the people. You know, it’s called cost-saving.”
The president’s remarks on his diplomatic corps came as he prepares to leave Washington for a five-nation trip to Asia, including stops in South Korea and China.
In August, concerns were raised that key East Asia jobs had been left empty as tensions rose between the U.S. and North Korea. Trump has not nominated an ambassador to South Korea.
For months, Trump’s administration has been criticized over budget cuts to the State Department and its pace of nominations for high-profile ambassadorships in Asia and the Middle East.
As NPR’s Michele Kelemen reported in September, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “has raised a lot of eyebrows, maintaining a hiring freeze long after it was lifted for the rest of the federal government. Secretary Tillerson has also hired outside consulting groups.”
For Trump, the approach extends beyond the State Department. His recent remarks echo what he said in October, when he told Forbes, “I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don’t need them.”
The president went on to complain about the “massive” size of some federal agencies.
As of last month, the Trump administration had installed roughly a quarter of the personnel needed to fill some 600 appointed positions that require Senate confirmation, as NPR’s Tamara Keith has reported.