American ambassador Richard Verma’s tenure is likely to end on January 20 as the US media on Friday reported that US President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has asked President Barack Obama’s political appointees to quit ahead of the new administration’s inauguration.
Political appointees are usually changed with the administration change. But this is usually done with much finesse. “There is a convention of allowing ambassadors to stay on till replacements are found. Usually, existing envoys carry on till the Senate confirmation of the appointments takes place,” an Indian official told The Indian Express.
Five of the seven American envoys to India since 1997 have been political appointees or non-career officers as they are called. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have named the five envoys: Richard Frank Celeste, Robert Blackwill, David C Mulford, Timothy Roemer and Verma. The other two, Peter Burleigh and Nancy Powell, have been career diplomats.
Verma, who had served in the US administration but was not a career diplomat, was handpicked to become the first Indian-American envoy to New Delhi in November 2014. Verma was sent to New Delhi weeks ahead of Obama’s visit.
Attending the Vibrant Gujarat Summit would be one of Verma’s last engagements according to his current schedule. Sources said that he is likely to pay a courtesy call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi before returning home.
The Politico reported that the transition team has informed the US State Department that it was not making any exception for any political appointee. The department began sending cables since as early as December 21 to ambassadors telling them that they would have to quit ahead of the Inauguration Day on January 20. A source in the team confirmed the decision but did not specify how many envoys might be affected.
Obama had handed out ambassadorships to his campaign donors and other supporters following a precedent set by both parties. The transition team’s directions would affect dozens of US diplomats in countries like Britain, Saudi Arabia and Japan.
Verma had said the US was “pretty divided” during the “impassioned” presidential campaign. He had asked the president-elect to “bring the country together” on November 9 as it became clear that Trump was winning. The US envoy had added that one “cannot govern in a divided country” but only in a “united country” while calling for the need to reach out.
Verma had worked closely with Hillary Clinton when she was the secretary of state before he was appointed the 25th US ambassador to India. Shalabh Kumar, a prominent Indian-American Trump supporter, is seen as Verma’s possible successor.