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Why Pompeo is headed to Georgia (the state, not the country)

If it seems as if Mike Pompeo is increasingly eager to play the role of political operative, ethical limits be damned, it's not your imagination.
Image: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, on July 15, 2020.Andrew Harnik / AFP - Getty Images

When I saw reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Georgia, I immediately thought that made sense. After all, given the recent conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the proximity of the tensions to Tbilisi, it stands to reason that the United States' chief diplomat would be focused on eastern Europe.

But as it turns out, that's not the Georgia on Pompeo's mind. The Associated Press reported yesterday:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to deliver a speech extolling the Trump administration's foreign policy this week in Georgia, ahead of key Senate run-off elections in the state that will determine control of the upper chamber of Congress. Pompeo is expected to address threats posed by China in an address to Georgia Tech on Wednesday, the university said. The speech in Atlanta will come less than a month before the run-off elections for the Georgia Senate seats and follows weekend senatorial campaign appearances in the state by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

If it seems as if Pompeo is increasingly eager to play the role of political operative, despite ethics laws limiting the electoral antics of cabinet secretaries, it's not your imagination.

Shortly before Election Day, for example, the Kansas Republican did media appearances with outlets in Florida, Georgia, and Michigan -- which just happened to be 2020 battleground states.

"Yes, the secretary should talk to the American people," Philip J. Crowley, former U.S. assistant secretary of State wrote at the time, "but in those states three weeks before the election? He's not even pretending to keep his distance from domestic politics."

As regular readers may recall, Pompeo has gone out of his way to prove the criticism true. The cabinet secretary headlined a political event in Florida ahead of the elections, for example, which roughly coincided with Pompeo's swing-state tour. The Associated Press noted that the secretary was "shattering diplomatic norms" with his "overtly political" excursions.

A month earlier, of course, Pompeo became the first modern secretary of State to deliver remarks at a national political convention, despite federal ethics laws and election-year guidelines issued by his own office.

About a year ago, Pompeo expressed interest in engaging in some limited political efforts, but he backed off when advised on State Department ethics rules. A year later, he's clearly decided to stop caring.