Posted: 7:23 pm Monday, January 30th, 2017
By Jamie Dupree
The White House on Monday had a blunt message for U.S. foreign service officers who are internally voicing their opposition to President Trump’s recently issued executive order on immigration, telling career State Department workers that they can either get on board with the Trump Administration, or find a new job.
“If these career bureaucrats have a problem with it, I think that they should either get with the program, or they can go,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, as he used a briefing with reporters to strongly defend Mr. Trump’s immigration moves, which temporarily suspended immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.
“This is about the safety of America,” Spicer added.
Spicer on dissent in the State Department: It does "call into question whether or not they should continue" to serve https://t.co/WinfuryHU0
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) January 30, 2017
Democrats in Congress said Spicer was out of line to heap criticism on State Department diplomats who were using an internal communications system known as the “Dissent Channel” to register their views.
“It is deeply disturbing that the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is bullying and intimidating State Department professionals for doing their jobs,” said Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN).
— Rep. Betty McCollum (@BettyMcCollum04) January 30, 2017
You can read the document that has been circulated here.
“We are writing to register our dissent,” the memo begins, arguing the new Trump immigration policy “runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play, and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants.”
Many might not remember, that just seven months ago, the “Dissent Channel” was being used to register opposition to how the Obama Administration was making policy choices on Syria.
In June of 2016, dozens of State Department diplomats signed a memo that “Foreign Policy” labeled an “essential instrument for sparking essential debate.”
So, it has happened before – not just to the Trump administration.
Dozens of US diplomats dissent from Obama Syria policy, call for military strikes against Bashar Assad. My story: https://t.co/DGXfFc9dtb
— Mark Landler (@MarkLandler) June 17, 2016
For those wondering why a group of workers inside the State Department might be challenging the policy choices of the new administration, the “Dissent Channel” was created during the Vietnam War, as way to bring in differing views.
Some have characterized the “Dissent Channel” as a “desperate last resort” when it comes to policy – but leaders have welcomed it, at least in principle.
“All of us in the Department have a responsibility to foster an atmosphere supportive of such dialogue, including the opportunity to offer alternative or dissenting opinions without fear of penalty,” said Secretary of State Warren Christopher back in August of 1995, voicing his approval of that back channel.
You can find other examples of the “Dissent Channel” being used to register differences on policy from within at the State Department through the years, going up and down in different administrations.
This time, though, there is some public push back from the White House.
“There is a reason that the majority of Americans agree with the President,” said the White House spokesman, as Spicer gave those on the “Dissent Channel” a direct rebuke.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.