Washington (CNN)As President Donald Trump refuses to acknowledge Joe Biden’s presidential election victory, he has put American diplomats in an awkward and untenable position — leaving them confused about what they can say to foreign counterparts about the election results and distressed about the possibility of waning global confidence in American democracy.
The State Department had not provided diplomats with guidance for how to discuss the election results as of Monday night, five US diplomats told CNN.
Traditionally, the secretary of state congratulates the President-elect and sends department-wide notes committing the department to a constructive transfer of power.
It has now been more than 72 hours since CNN protected that Biden won the presidential election. US diplomats have asked the State Department for clarity but they have not received any guidance, four of the diplomats told CNN.
Without guidance from the department, America’s diplomats do not know the appropriate way to describe Biden’s victory and Trump’s allegations of fraud, which are not based in any evidence.
“It is a totally bizarre place where we are right now. We do not know if we are allowed to call Joe Biden the President-elect,” said one US diplomat overseas. “We also cannot answer the questions of any foreign journalists or foreign counterparts in a way that assumes there is a transition.”
Some diplomats have used private conversations with foreign counterparts to point out that the system is working: Americans voted and Trump’s legal gambit must go through the judicial process. Others are distressed about the stain this leaves on American democracy and how it could impact their work going forward.
Trump’s rejection of the results and his efforts to cast doubt on the process are precisely what US diplomats have warned their counterparts in foreign countries against doing.
“It puts posts in a terrible position — everyone pretty much recognizes that there are no substantive legal challenges, and the President’s refusal to concede, and Republicans’ unwillingness to confront him, is all about his political future and theirs,” said former career US diplomat Lewis Lukens. “The legitimacy of the US elections is not seriously in question. So all these diplomats around the world are being forced to ‘pretend’ that we are going through normal electoral processes when, in fact, we really aren’t.”
A second US diplomat said that “it is Trump’s behavior that puts democracies in jeopardy.”
“This is what we have spent a tremendous amount of time lecturing other countries against doing — undermining a legitimate democratic process. I wonder why they would take us seriously now,” this person said.
If Trump’s refusal to concede “goes on for weeks, it gets progressively more challenging to explain/defend,” said a third US diplomat.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been careful to never get ahead of Trump during the last four years, has not said anything about the election results.
He delivered his first public remarks at the Ronald Reagan Institute on Tuesday morning and did not mention the election. He will hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Two of the US diplomats told CNN they look forward to hearing from Pompeo because it could give them some sense of how the department expects them to discuss the election results with foreign counterparts.