“Moments of upheaval can change you, shift the trajectory of your life, and mold your character. The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions,” Taylor wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs.”
Taylor, 30, was unanimously confirmed to her position in October 2018 and is the youngest assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs in history and the first black woman to serve in that post.
She has been a pivotal behind-the-scenes figure in the administration. Tapped for her legislative expertise and strong relationship with senators because of her work for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Taylor served as the White House’s deputy director for nominations before joining the State Department.
In her White House role, she helped shepherd more than 400 presidential appointments through the Senate, including those of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell and Pompeo.
Taylor’s decision to leave the administration amid the racial tensions flaring nationwide appears to be the first high-profile resignation made in protest of the president’s actions that has been made public. One member of the Defense Science Board, James N. Miller, submitted his resignation to Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper shortly after Trump’s controversial photo op in Lafayette Square, but he was a former Obama administration official who had served on the committee that advises the Pentagon on science issues since 2014.
In contrast, Taylor was viewed as a loyal member of the administration and is a lifelong member of the Republican Party. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gorsuch administered Taylor’s oath of office at her swearing-in ceremony in December 2018 at the State Department. In her position as assistant secretary of state, Taylor served as Pompeo’s chief liaison to Capitol Hill.
“I am deeply grateful to you, Mr. Secretary, for empowering me to lead this team and strategically advise you over these last two years,” Taylor wrote in the resignation letter she submitted to Pompeo. “You have shown grace and respect in listening to my opinions, and your remarkable leadership has made me a better leader and team member. I appreciate that you understand my strong loyalty to my personal convictions and values, particularly in light of recent events.”
Before joining the administration, Taylor was an aide to McConnell where she worked as a member of his cloakroom staff helping oversee legislative debates on the floor. She comes from a family with a history of public service; her mother, Kristin Clark Taylor, served as the White House’s director of media relations under President George H.W. Bush and was the first black woman to hold that job.
“Leader McConnell appreciates Mary Elizabeth’s service to the Republican Conference and our nation,” David Popp, a spokesman for McConnell, said Thursday.
Taylor sat in on an Oval Office meeting between Trump and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the Senate’s lone black Republican, in the aftermath of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Trump drew widespread rebukes for his comment that there were “very fine people on both sides” of the rally.
During that meeting, Scott, who leads one of the most diverse staffs in the Senate, implored the president — who had very little racial diversity on his staff — to appoint more people like Taylor to the White House, according to an Axios report at the time.
Since the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by Minneapolis police last month, Trump has struggled to play the role of conciliator at a time of protests and civil unrest across the country over the plight of black Americans and the nation’s legacy of racism.
The White House has come under heavy criticism after federal authorities forcefully swept away peaceful demonstrators protesting Floyd’s death at Lafayette Square across the street from the White House. This cleared a path for Trump to walk several hundred yards to the iconic St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible and posed for photographs. The White House has denied the protesters were removed so the president could hold a photo op.
As protests began to break out in Minneapolis, Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” — a phrase associated with police tactics used against protesters during the civil rights era.
His campaign also scheduled Trump’s first rally in months on June 19, the Juneteenth holiday that marks the end of slavery in the United States, in Tulsa — the site of a deadly race massacre in 1921. In a Wall Street Journal interview published Thursday, Trump claimed that “nobody had ever heard of” Juneteenth until he popularized it and moved the rally after learning what the day signified from black associates.
“I did something good. I made it famous. I made Juneteenth very famous. It’s actually an important event, it’s an important time,” he told the Journal. “But nobody had heard of it. Very few people have heard of it. Actually, a young African American Secret Service agent knew what it was. I had political people who had no idea.”
Trump also has insisted on keeping military bases named after Confederate military figures, even as his own defense leaders and Republican senators on Capitol Hill signal openness to changing the names amid calls that it is racist to honor leaders who fought to defend slavery.
On June 3, Taylor sent a message to her team of roughly 60 State Department employees, acknowledging that in the aftermath of Floyd’s death that her heart “is broken, in a way from which I’ve had to heal it countless times.”
“George Floyd’s horrific murder and the recent deaths of other Black Americans have shaken our nation at its core. Every time we witness these heinous, murderous events, we are reminded that our country’s wounds run deep and remain untreated,” Taylor wrote in her note, also obtained by The Post. “For our team members who are hurting right now, please know you are not alone. You are seen, recognized, heard, and supported. I am right here with you.”