Facing continued chatter about his own political future, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo parried questions Monday about how long he plans to continue serving under President Donald Trump.
“I’m going to be there until he tweets me out of office,” Pompeo joked during an appearance at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Overland Park. The one-liner was a possible reference to his predecessor as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who discovered via Twitter last year that he’d been fired.
“It has been an enormous privilege,” he said, “to be part of the Trump administration.”
The State Department-run event, held in partnership with the Netherlands before the country hosts the full summit in June, comes as Kansas Republicans continue to eye the former congressman and CIA director as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate in 2020 or governor in 2022.
He’s ruled out a run for Senate, but that hasn’t completely shut off the speculation.
His speech to a room full of business leaders, delivered during his first official visit to Kansas since becoming secretary of state, focused not on his own political fortunes but rather his background as a businessman and the foreign policy of President Trump, who he said “is reestablishing American leadership around the world.”
“America cannot do what it needs to do in the world alone,” Pompeo said, later adding that during previous administrations “either America took it upon itself to resolve problems alone, or we withdrew because the problem was too difficult, too big or too costly.”
As one example, Pompeo pointed to North Korea.
President Trump’s argument that tensions with North Korea have been reduced because of his personal diplomacy with Kim Jong Un were undercut last month when disarmament talks in Vietnam collapsed between the two countries.
And last week, North Korean leaders accused Trump’s administration of “gangster-like” tactics and blamed the U.S. for the failed summit.
Pompeo said every effort to deal with North Korea over the last few decades have failed. President Trump, he argued, has coordinated an economic sanctions campaign to increase pressure on the regime while also pursuing diplomacy.
“We’re not done. Hard work remains,” he said, later adding: “We currently have both the toughest sanctions in history as well as the most promising diplomatic campaign.”
Pompeo said from “Iran to North Korea, to the work we’ve done to strengthen NATO, to the coalition we’re building in the Indo-Pacific to counter the threat China presents to the world, the Trump administration is working diligently to build the partnerships that you all do each and every day in your business life.”
David Hulshof, managing partner of Leawood Capital, said he found Pompeo’s speech “very inspirational.”
“He did a great job connecting the entrepreneurial spirit of being a Kansan and equating that to the world stage he’s on today,” he said.
Hulshof said he would “love to see him continue to serve the country, the state, the community. He’s a hard-driving individual, but very grounded in his core beliefs.”
As he was preparing to leave the stage Monday, Pompeo couldn’t escape without one last question about his political future.
Asked what he thought he’d be doing in five years, he laughed.
“As I get older,” he said, “I get smarter about not answering that question.”