At Friday’s State Department press conference, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf noted President Obama cancelled his trip to Indonesia and Brunei because of the government shutdown, and she asserted that, while Secretary of State Kerry “will ably represent the United States” on the trip instead, “this completely avoidable shutdown is setting back our ability to … advance U.S. leadership and interests in the largest emerging region in the world.”
Harf then reiterated “what I said yesterday, that for a Congress that talks a lot about American exceptionalism, they’re sending the exact opposite message all around the world right now”–which caused reporters to respond by reiterating a question of their own, asking again how many people in the State Department have been furloughed because of the shutdown. That produced this colloquy:
MS. HARF: No new updates. Like I said, every day we’re continuing to look at the numbers. We haven’t had to undertake massive furloughs like we’ve seen, unfortunately, elsewhere. But no new updates on our posture today.
QUESTION: And we don’t have any numbers yet on furloughs?
MS. HARF: No numbers.
QUESTION: Why don’t we have any numbers on furloughs?
MS. HARF: We just don’t have any to provide at this point. We’ve said it’s a very small number in these offices. If we have numbers to share, we will.
QUESTION: Well, it’s small, like what – like under 10 or 50 or –
MS. HARF: I know you ask the same question every day, and we just don’t have numbers for you at this point.
QUESTION: Why not?
QUESTION: My question is: Why.
MS. HARF: Why?
QUESTION: Why are you unwilling to provide the numbers?
MS. HARF: Right. Well, we – I just don’t have those numbers in front of me. I know our folks are looking at them now.
QUESTION: How long does it take? It’s been going on for days.
QUESTION: But I didn’t ask you whether you had them in front of you. I asked why, and Deb asked why.
MS. HARF: Well, I said that’s why I can’t provide them, because they’re not in front of me.
QUESTION: Why? No, but that’s – look, tautologies like this don’t help anybody. There’s got to be a reason why you’re unwilling to provide the numbers. What is it?
MS. HARF: The answer – I’ve said it’s a very small number. I can endeavor to get a specific number for you on it.
QUESTION: But – yeah. We’ve been asking now for days. So when –
MS. HARF: Okay. I will keep endeavoring to get you one.
QUESTION: Well, what do you think the problem is?
MS. HARF: I don’t know that there’s a problem. I just don’t have the number in front of me, and I will see if we can get one.
QUESTION: Would you say that the numbers are increasing with every passing day, from Tuesday until today?
MS. HARF: The numbers of what?
QUESTION: The numbers of people –
MS. HARF: Of furloughs?
QUESTION: — being furloughed. Yes.
MS. HARF: No. So –
QUESTION: So the number is static. Whatever was furloughed –
MS. HARF: Correct.
QUESTION: — were furloughed on Tuesday –
MS. HARF: That small number – yes. That’s correct.
For some reason, the State Department doesn’t want to admit that the only person who has been furloughed so far is apparently the copy machine guy.
Then there was this response to a reporter asking if the State Department has issued a standard statement to foreign governments explaining the shutdown:
MS. HARF: I don’t know if we’ve issued a standard statement. Of course our ambassadors and our diplomats on the ground are having tough conversations with our partners around the world. If there are things we’ve committed to do that we then can no longer do – conferences we’re supposed to participate in, multilateral engagements we’re supposed to participate in – clearly, those are tough conversations. And our folks around the world are having those with partner governments right now.
The “tough conversations” are undoubtedly rendered more difficult by the restrictive vocabulary the Obama administration has imposed on the State Department since 2009. Imagine the puzzlement of partner governments at the administration’s explanation that the shutdown results from congressional devotees of man-caused disasterism who are engaged in a deep inner spiritual struggle about ObamaCare.