The second was as exceptional because it was unprecedented: A sitting U.S. secretary of state took to the microphone to pledge his fealty to the president — regardless of his well-documented unhappiness within the job and the rising presumption in Washington that he’s a short-timer.
Rex Tillerson mentioned Wednesday he would keep so long as President Trump desires him to, and Trump mentioned he has “full confidence” within the former ExxonMobil chief government. Shortly afterward, Tillerson’s spokeswoman additionally felt compelled to publicly deny an NBC Information report that Tillerson had known as the president a “moron,” and she or he mentioned he was decided to stay in his job.
However Tillerson’s transfer on Wednesday to reassure Trump of his convictions could be too little and too late for the long run, in line with the accounts of 19 present and former senior administration officers and Capitol Hill aides, most of whom spoke on the situation of anonymity to supply candid assessments.
The already tense relationship between the 2 headstrong males — one a billionaire former actual property developer, the opposite a former captain of the worldwide oil trade — has ruptured into what some White Home officers name an irreparable breach that may inevitably result in Tillerson’s departure, whether or not instantly or not. Tillerson’s dwindling cohort of allies say he has been given an unimaginable job and is doing his greatest with it.
For months now, Trump has been piqued by rumors of disloyalty which have filtered as much as him from Foggy Backside, the house of the State Division. In non-public conferences, the president has additionally been irked by Tillerson’s arguments for a more-traditional method on insurance policies, from Iran to local weather change to North Korea, and by Tillerson’s seen frustration when overruled. Trump has chafed at what he sees as vanity on the a part of an worker.
And as Tillerson has traveled the globe, Trump believes his prime diplomat usually appears extra involved with what the world thinks of the USA than with tending to the president’s private picture.
In the meantime, Tillerson — who ran one of many world’s largest firms with near-dictatorial management — has struggled to undergo the whims and desires of a boss who governs by impulse. Deliberative in type, he has been caught off-guard by Trump’s fiery and injudicious tweets and repulsed by some flashes of the president’s character, corresponding to when Trump mentioned there have been “fine people” amongst these marching at a lethal white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. “The president speaks for himself,” Tillerson mentioned on the time.
Tillerson has additionally been uncomfortable with the chain of command within the West Wing, typically “table dropping” his proposals in conferences — springing PowerPoint slides on his nationwide safety colleagues with out advance discover.
“He, from my perspective, is in an incredibly frustrating place,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) mentioned of Tillerson on Wednesday, calling him one among a number of administration officers “separating our country from chaos.”
“He ends up not being supported in a way that I would hope a secretary of state would be supported,” Corker mentioned.
Two profession businessmen with completely different worldviews and administration types, Trump, 71, and Tillerson, 65, got here collectively in one thing of an organized marriage final December. Every has been exasperated on the means the opposite has dealt with his job, present and former officers mentioned.
However tensions escalated badly over the previous few weeks as Tillerson and his small circle of aides clashed with White Home officers over issues as large because the route of U.S. coverage in Afghanistan and as small as Tillerson’s behavior, in line with White Home officers, of neglecting to return telephone calls.
Tillerson’s public remarks Wednesday got here after months of disagreements between Tillerson and the White Home over staffing and administrative issues on the State Division and a disconnection over what Trump noticed as Tillerson’s typical method to coverage issues.
Over the weekend, Trump contradicted Tillerson on diplomatic relations with North Korea and its chief. Trump tweeted that the secretary of state was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” — the president’s nickname for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Tillerson has repeatedly ended up on the shedding facet of vital coverage discussions, and folks acquainted with White Home views say Trump resents him for the debates he has received, together with a grudging choice final month so as to add U.S. forces to the inconclusive 16-year battle in Afghanistan.
“Rex Tillerson has been dealt a bad hand by the Potus & has played it badly. For both reasons he cannot be effective SecState & should resign,” Council on International Relations president Richard N. Haass wrote on Twitter forward of Tillerson’s assertion Wednesday.
Haass, a former prime State Division official, declined an interview request but additionally wrote that it could be onerous for anybody to do the job nicely. He cited a Trump coverage agenda that features separating the USA from commerce offers such because the Trans-Pacific Partnership and worldwide compacts such because the Paris local weather accord, Trump’s Twitter behavior, plus an absence of workers and cash.
“The White House thinking is unequivocal that he’s going to be gone soon, but the assumption is that he’s going to quit on his own so Trump can say, ‘Thank you for your year of service,’ ” mentioned a former senior official who has held latest conferences on the White Home.
Tillerson entered workplace as one of many mainstream overseas coverage and nationwide safety voices round Trump, placing him at odds with Trump’s first nationwide safety adviser, Michael Flynn, and his former chief strategist, Stephen Okay. Bannon. He additionally held an unsure steadiness of energy with Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, whom Trump tasked with in search of Center East peace and describes as a key overseas coverage adviser.
Tillerson has complained in regards to the fuzzy traces of authority and about being minimize out of some selections involving Kushner, two folks acquainted with his pondering mentioned. Kushner has advised others within the administration that Tillerson is simply too dismissive of colleagues.
Trump himself has groused that Tillerson is insufficiently supportive throughout nationwide safety conferences, talking little and typically in clipped tones.
Tillerson clashed with different Trump advisers over the administration’s method to the Iran nuclear deal, and whether or not Trump ought to certify to Congress this month that the landmark settlement is within the U.S. nationwide curiosity.
Tillerson has argued internally that it’s, regardless of what he calls severe flaws within the deal, and Protection Secretary Jim Mattis went public Tuesday with the identical argument. However Trump has strongly urged he’ll go the opposite means and has bristled at being “steered” towards what he views as an inauthentic place, a number of folks acquainted with the dispute mentioned.
Tillerson wouldn’t say Wednesday whether or not he agrees with Mattis, whose personal place inside the administration seems extra strong.
On this case and others the place they’ve disagreed, Tillerson advocated what Trump has complained is a “totally conventional” place that’s at odds with Trump’s break-the-mold philosophy. Trump, for instance, was incensed final weekend when he thought Tillerson was “freelancing” a diplomatic overture to North Korea, one official mentioned.
Trump has mentioned he believes speaking to North Korea has failed for 3 a long time and he sees no purpose it could work now.
“His is the traditional, establishment model,” one one that has mentioned Tillerson’s views with Trump mentioned of Tillerson. “It’s the same foreign policy that John Kerry had, and it’s the same foreign policy that Hillary Clinton had. It is not America leading. It is America trying to be cordial and collegial with everybody.”
On Wednesday, Tillerson praised the overseas coverage mannequin that Trump espouses and towards which Tillerson himself has argued in a collection of inside debates. Trump’s nationwide safety staff is united in “doing great things for the United States of America to make America great again,” Tillerson mentioned, echoing Trump’s marketing campaign theme.
“He loves his country,” he mentioned. “He puts Americans and America first. He’s smart. He demands results wherever he goes and he holds those around him accountable.”
Trump responded favorably. “I was very honored by his comments,” he advised reporters throughout a go to to Las Vegas. “Total confidence in Rex, I have total confidence.”
The White Home and State Division each denied the NBC report that Tillerson had insulted Trump after a nationwide safety assembly on the Pentagon over the summer season by referring to him as a “moron.” However West Wing aides mentioned the rumor of such a comment had floated within the halls earlier than the NBC report Wednesday.
Tillerson declined to immediately tackle the name-calling element, calling it “petty” and an instance of Washington backbiting that’s overseas to him. However his spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, mentioned later within the day that Tillerson had explicitly denied it in a dialog along with her.
“The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States,” she mentioned. “The secretary does not use that language to speak about anyone. He did not say that.”
Tillerson and his aides first discovered themselves at odds with some Trump aides months in the past, when the chief diplomat launched a administration overhaul at State that’s projected to take years, to the annoyance of some senior White Home officers desperate to fill jobs. Tillerson, in flip, was aggravated by what he noticed as chaos and ineptitude within the administration that continued for months, folks acquainted with his pondering mentioned.
He additionally complained to pals about competing energy facilities and a tradition of backstabbing inside the Trump administration that may be very completely different from the top-down company tradition he left. That very same company expertise gave Tillerson a background within the sensitivities and calls for of a big and numerous workforce, and appeared to tell his clear disagreement with Trump over Charlottesville.
Vice President Pence at one level tried to assist ease tensions, counseling Tillerson that he ought to take up any issues he has immediately with the president in non-public, slightly than airing his grievances publicly, a White Home official mentioned.
However Pence was described as “very annoyed” Wednesday after a State Division spokesman, R.C. Hammond, claimed within the NBC report that Pence had urged Tillerson to not resign and had requested Tillerson whether or not U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley was an issue for the administration. The vp’s workplace put out a press release Wednesday denying these components of the report, whereas Hammond took to Twitter to apologize, writing, “I spoke out of line about conversations I wasn’t privy to.”
Nauert mentioned Tillerson “never considered resigning from his post, and for those who want him to do so, go ahead and keep pushing because that will only strengthen his resolve” to remain.
Nonetheless, Tillerson’s tenure stays decidedly unsure, and lots of within the West Wing and in Congress urged Wednesday “Rexit” was nonetheless possible by early 2018.
Tillerson additionally stays remoted in political Washington, with few confidants except for Corker on Capitol Hill. He has met solely twice with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Armed Companies Committee and his occasion’s main voice on nationwide safety. A kind of conferences was earlier than Tillerson’s Senate affirmation.
“Tillerson has no help. No team, no natural allies, and he’s not hiring anyone,” one former senior official mentioned. “There’s a kind of death spiral.”
Carol Morello and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.