(Crux) Up until recently, the assumption had been that the first opportunity to gauge the Trump administration’s approach to the Vatican under Pope Francis would come in late May, when Trump is scheduled to travel to Sicily for a G7 summit. Expectations were that Trump, like most American presidents visiting Italy, would also stop in Rome for a tête-à-tête with the pontiff.
However, as the Financial Times has reported, such a meeting is not in the cards. On background, sources told Crux that aside from the logistical difficulties of getting from Sicily to Rome in between a NATO summit and Memorial Day, there’s also a problem of staffing on the White House side, as right now the perception is there’s no one who could brief Trump adequately for an encounter with the pope.
As a result, the focus now in terms of how seriously the administration is likely to take the Vatican, shifts back to Trump’s choice for his ambassador – and, on that front, the basic message coming from longtime watchers of the diplomatic scene seems to be, “Don’t hold your breath.”
The American Foreign Service Association, which tracks diplomatic appointments, reports that of the 188 ambassador-level positions a president theoretically can fill, 57 are currently vacant. That vacuum was in part created by the decision of Trump’s transition team to require that every political appointee as an ambassador had to vacate his or her embassy before Inauguration Day, which broke with the previous tradition of providing a grace period. (Career diplomatic appointees were allowed to stay on.)
To date, Trump has made only six appointments of new ambassadors. They include Nikki Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina, to the United Nations, and David Friedman, a former bankruptcy lawyer, to Israel. [More]