The American ambassador to Fiji, Joseph Cella, is destined to become one of the shortest serving US envoys after his patron, Donald Trump, was given his marching orders by the American people in the presidential election. As a political appointment, he will soon be replaced by either another political appointment chosen by the election victor, Joe Biden, or more probably, a career diplomat from the State Department. Cella’s predecessor, Judith Cefkin, was a State Department appointment but Donald Trump decided to choose the next ambassador in Suva personally. And he chose someone who was personally loyal to him and had assisted him to win the presidency.
Joseph Cella was a staunch Trump supporter, delivering him a bloc of Roman Catholic votes as part of the Christian surge that swept Trump into office four years ago in 2016. But it wasn’t until towards the end of last year that Cella finally arrived in Fiji and presented his credentials to H.E the President in December 2019. There was a great deal of muttering in the interim about the low priority Donald Trump had given Fiji to have the ambassador’s position vacant for so long. When he finally came, Cella threw himself into the job and has had a relatively high profile compared with former envoys. But now he and his wife, Kristen, and their seven children will be packing up and returning to America after only a year. And the question is what next in the way of American policy towards Fiji.
One of the thorns in the relationship has been the Trump administration’s lack of commitment to resolute action on climate change, including Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. All that is going to change with Joe Biden’s strong commitment to comprehensive action, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and its commitment to cap global warming at no more than two degrees celsius above the level of the pre-industrial age. That will be warmly welcomed in Suva, as will the incoming Biden administration’s strong commitment to beat Covid-19 and strengthen America’s relations with its security partners and other democracies. Donald Trump’s record on all of this has been woeful.
As Fiji prepares to say “see ya” to Joseph Cella, it worth reading his Wikipedia entry to see how much America relies on friends of the president to represent the country’s interests abroad rather than career diplomats. The benefit may be quicker access to the corridors of power in Washington as long as someone like Donald Trump is in the White House. But when his political goose is cooked, it’s back to square one with yet another turnover in personnel and a whole new chapter of getting to know one another. Which isn’t ideal given the grave challenges the world faces, and especially our own region.
Joseph James Cella was born on November 14, 1969, to his father, Robert Cella, and his mother, Janice Jean Cox. He was raised in Richmond, Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College in 1991. He lives in Augusta Charter Township, Michigan outside of Ann Arbor with his wife Kristen Renee, and their seven children.
Cella is a Roman Catholic. In 2004, he founded the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast along with, Rick Santorum, and Leonard Leo. Which was created in response to Pope John Paul II’s call for a new evangelization. It has featured many notable guest speakers like George W. Bush, John Roberts, Paul Ryan, Raymond Leo Burke, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia.
Cella co-founded the Catholic advocacy organization Catholic Vote. It has grown to over 700,000 members, as of 2019.
Cella made his start in politics by managing two successful campaign, and one failed campaign for three Michigan state senators. From there, he went on to work for Senator Spencer Abraham as a regional director in Michigan for five years. Cella then worked as a staff member in the Capitol Hill office of Representative Thaddeus McCotter for two years, before becoming a senior adviser to the House Republican Steering Committee and Republican Policy Committee.
During the 2016 United States presidential election he served as lead Catholic advisory council, for then Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Cella was a part of the Trump Transition Team, as well. He was offered a White House position after the transition was over, but he declined. Then after, Trump offered him an ambassadorship of either Malta, Uruguay, Slovenia, or Fiji. He chose Fiji.
After being nominated by Trump in February 2019, Cella’s nomination was approved 14-7 by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April. In September, the U.S. Senate voted 56–38 to approve Cella as Ambassador to Fiji, and concurrently as Ambassador to Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu. He was sworn in on November 25, 2019.