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Senators blast State Department over cuts

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) talks to reporters as he arrives for the weekly Republican caucus policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on March 10, 2015. Photo by Jonathan Ernst for Reuters.

The Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee blasted the U.S. State Department on Tuesday for cuts in staff and what they described as a failure to have a plan for a proposed reorganization.

“I don’t think they are anywhere close to having a plan to present relative to the reforms that they want,” said Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the committee.

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Rex Tillerson, Republican President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, has embraced the White House’s proposal – rejected by key members of Congress – to cut the State Department budget by about 30 percent. He has imposed a hiring freeze while analyzing the agency’s operations and deciding how to reorganize them.

Tillerson, a former chief executive at Exxon Mobil Corp who took office on Feb. 1, has offered few specifics to ease concerns, including in Congress, that the plan risks weakening U.S. standing in the world.

Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, called the staff reductions a risk to national security and a “high-level decapitation of leadership.”

“Folks, this situation is alarming. We put our country in danger,” Cardin said during a committee business meeting.

Corker said the panel had had “a very unsatisfactory meeting last week with the State Department” and that concern was bipartisan. “We need to be much more focused on holding them accountable,” Corker said.

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Trump has several times contradicted Tillerson on foreign policy issues. The president said earlier this month that his opinion was the only one that mattered in U.S. foreign policy. “The one that matters is me,” Trump said on Fox News. “I‘m the only one that matters because, when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Frances Kerry)


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