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John Sullivan Reassures Senators About State Department Cutbacks


The State Department is bracing for some big cuts under the Trump administration. But John Sullivan is reassuring senators that the reorganization plans are still in the early stages. Sullivan had a confirmation hearing today, and he's nominated to be the number two at State. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, he also faced many questions and concerns about where human rights fit into the administration's foreign policy agenda.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was telling his staff that there are times when the U.S. needs to separate U.S. values from its national security and economic interests. But John Sullivan, who's been tapped to be his deputy, says basic human rights are the, quote, bedrock of our Republic.


JOHN SULLIVAN: I am committed to making the State Department the preeminent force to protect American values and promote American values in the world.

KELEMEN: Sullivan is a lawyer who has served in the past in the Departments of Justice, Defense and Commerce. Prompted by Florida Republican Marco Rubio, Sullivan shared his personal interest in human rights. His wife's uncle was a longtime political prisoner in Cuba.


SULLIVAN: And he's still alive today. He's 92, almost 93 years old, and he's a great inspiration to our family and an inspiration to me.

KELEMEN: John Sullivan was originally tapped for a top job in the Pentagon but ended up with the number two post at the State Department, which has had trouble getting potential nominees through the White House. If confirmed, he says he will try to speed up the personnel appointments and move quickly to reorganize the department. Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, says it seems to him that the White House is just trying to slash and burn at a time of rising challenges.


CHRIS MURPHY: And yet, what worries me is that given the fact that the world has changed and all of these nonmilitary threats have multiplied, this reorganization essentially has been pre-determined by a president who has called for a 30 percent reduction in the capacity of the State Department.

KELEMEN: The deputy secretary of state nominee says there have been no decisions on job cuts despite reports that 2,300 positions are on the chopping block. Sullivan says that the secretary of state has only just begun to solicit input from staff around the globe. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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