In an unprecedented move, President-elect Donald Trump has ordered all ambassadors appointed by President Barack Obama to leave their posts by Inauguration Day, refusing to provide "even the briefest of grace periods," the New York Times reported late Thursday.
"The mandate—issued 'without exceptions,' according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said—threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada, and Britain," the Times observed.
As is custom, Obama had directed his appointees to issue a resignation by January 20. But political appointees have typically been permitted to remain at their posts for weeks or months after the new president is sworn in, which Politico notes, is partly done "out of personal courtesy for their family situations, but it can also help allow for some continuity as the new administration moves to fill a vast number of postings stateside and abroad."
But with Trump's "mission of dismantling many of his predecessor's signature foreign and domestic policy achievements," as the Times put it, that consideration has been shunned.
A State Department official confirmed to Politico that even in the case where ambassadors request extensions, the Trump transition team said no exceptions would be allowed.
In many cases, this has "upended the personal lives of many ambassadors," diplomats told the Times, as families scramble to "secure living arrangements and acquire visas allowing them to remain in their countries so their children can remain in school."
Derek Shearer, a professor of diplomacy at Occidental College and former U.S. ambassador to Finland, told the Times that "[i]t feels like there's an element just of spite and payback in it...I don't see a higher policy motive."
"I don't recollect there was ever a guillotine in January where it was just, 'Everybody out of the pool immediately,'" added Ronald E. Neumann, president of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit association of ambassadors, the American Academy of Diplomacy.
There are 188 ambassadorships available, roughly 30 of percent of which are political appointees. As Politico notes, "The more dangerous, less glamorous ambassador postings—countries such as Sudan, Afghanistan, or Russia—tend to go to career Foreign Service officers, who are not required to step down by Inauguration Day."