U. S. Ambassador to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu: Who Is Joseph Cella?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Joseph Cella

An ultra-conservative Roman Catholic politico who called candidate Donald Trump “manifestly unfit to be president of the United States,” is President Trump’s pick to be the next ambassador to Fiji and four other Pacific island nations. If confirmed by the Senate, Joseph Cella would succeed Judith Cefkin, a career foreign service officer who has served in Suva, Fiji, since January 2015.


Cella’s criticism of Trump appeared in the conservative National Review, which in March 2016 published an essay by conservative Catholic scholars Robert P. George and George Weigel. The essay criticized Trump’s “vulgarity,” called Trump’s “appeals to racial and ethnic fears and prejudice offensive to any genuinely Catholic sensibility,” and pointed out that his support of torturing terrorism suspects was “condemned by the Church and … would bring shame upon our country.” In light of Trump’s waffling over the years on abortion, the essay concluded that “there is nothing … that gives us grounds for confidence that he genuinely shares our commitments to the right to life.”  


Despite all that, just a few months later Cella was named “chief liaison to the campaign for Catholic affairs,” and joined a newly-formed Catholic advisory panel for the Trump campaign. Cella claimed to America magazine that he had “a sincere change of heart and mind” after Trump pledged to appoint anti-abortion judges. “Mr. Trump has promised to appoint justices in the mold of great Catholic jurist and thinker Antonin Scalia,” wrote Cella. Cella made no mention of the criticisms regarding vulgarity and racism he had also leveled against Trump in March 2016. As it happened, Catholics narrowly supported Hilary Clinton over Donald Trump, 48% to 45%.


Born November 14, 1969, in Richmond, Michigan, to Janice Jean (Cox) Cella and Robert Francis Cella, Joseph James Cella graduated the now defunct Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods, Michigan, in 1987, and earned a B.A. in English in 1991 at Hillsdale College, a conservative, Christian college in rural Michigan best known for refusing federal aid of any kind because of its fierce opposition to affirmative action.


After graduating Hillsdale in 1991, Cella spent nearly twenty years working in the U.S. Congress, Republican political campaigns, and right-wing non-profits. He served as a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter, a Michigan Republican, and as a senior adviser to the House Republican Steering Committee and Republican Policy Committee.


He was a founder, in 2004, of the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, which attracts conservative Catholic activists and politicians. Also in 2004, Cella served as the executive director of the Ave Maria List, a small Catholic political action committee that worked to defeat then-Senate minority leader Thomas A.  Daschle (D-South Dakota) during the 2004 elections. In 2005, Cella co-founded the Fidelis Center, an umbrella organization for conservative Catholic activism and served as its Treasurer. One of its primary projects has been CatholicVote, which encourages Catholics to vote for conservative, nearly always Republican, political candidates.


He has been principal since 2010 of a consulting firm he founded, The Pontifex Group, which has described itself as a “boutique consulting firm that provides strategic and tactical consulting to corporations, high net-worth individuals, associations, non-profits, elected officials and candidates.”


In 2012, Cella was GOP primary candidate Sen. Rick Santorum’s political director for Michigan.  Santorum lost the Michigan primary to eventual nominee Mitt Romney by about 30,000 votes.


Joseph Cella is married to Kristen Renee (Hemker) Cella, with whom he has six children.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Richmond Native Cella Nominated for Fiji Ambassadorship (Macomb Daily)

Trump Nominates Michigan’s Cella as Ambassador to Fiji (by Melissa Nann Burke, Detroit News)

Struggling with Catholics, Trump Taps Conservative Catholic Advisers (Crux)

An Appeal to Our Fellow Catholics (by Robert P. George & George Weigel, National Review)


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