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Senators Grill Rex Tillerson on Spending Cuts

“Our budget will never determine our ability to be effective,” he said. “Our people will.”

But he also urged other nations in the world to do more.

Senator Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who leads the committee and was among those considered by President Trump for secretary of state, began the budget hearing by describing how he and his staff gathered on Monday to go through the administration’s budget request in detail.

“After about five minutes, I said: ‘This is a total waste of time. I don’t want to do this anymore,’ ” Mr. Corker said. “And the reason it’s a waste of time is, I think you know, the budget that’s been presented is not going to be the budget that we’re going to deal with. It’s just not.”

An exchange with Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, was typical of sentiments from the senators, who largely spend their public lives trying to align priorities and budgets.

“So my question, Mr. Secretary, is simple,” Mr. Mendendez said. “Does this administration believe that support of democracy and human rights is a reflection of American leadership and value? And a simple yes or no to that would be appreciated.”

“Yes,” Mr. Tillerson replied.

Mr. Menendez followed up, saying, “How can you say that then when the budget completely zeros out assistance for democracy assistance?”

Mr. Tillerson said that other parts of the budget could be used for the task. But, he conceded, “These are some of the hard choices that I mentioned.”

Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana, asked how the State Department was addressing the political obstacles that have prevented food and medical aid from reaching millions of people starving in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

Mr. Tillerson answered that the department had spoken to the United Nations, an organization for which the Trump administration has proposed slashing support. But as with many issues, he repeated that other countries needed to do more.

“Again, on this issue, we’re trying to elicit participation by others, have others bring their own capacity as well,” he said.

In response to a question from Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, about whether the Trump administration was withdrawing the United States from its longtime leadership position in global affairs, Mr. Tillerson said it was not. “I think as there’s a realistic and honest examination of what the American people have been asked to do relative to what some of our allies and partners have been asked to do, there’s a lack of alignment there,” he said.

Statistics show that many nations contribute far more on a per-capita basis to foreign aid than the United States.

Mr. Tillerson’s delays in naming his leadership team came in for some criticism, as did his new structure for the department. Senators said that with the fiscal year nearing an end, they would need some hint of how the department would be organized to fund it appropriately. Mr. Tillerson, an engineer, described the careful process he was undertaking for his reorganization.

“Hopefully we will have some clarity around what that looks like by the end of this year,” Mr. Tillerson said of the department’s new structure. “Early next year we’ll begin implementation.”

“And when you say this year, you mean this fiscal year?” Mr. Corker asked hopefully, which would mean an announcement in September.

“This calendar year,” Mr. Tillerson answered — or three months later.

“Calendar year,” Mr. Corker repeated, his eyebrows rising.

Source: NYT > World

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