The New York Times has reported that the White House has a tentative plan to replace the current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Rex Wayne Tillerson is an American civil engineer and former energy executive who rose to serve as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016.
He was appointed by President Trump as the secretary of state on 1st February 2017. At one point he was considered to be the most trusted person in Trump’s administration. The relationship between the two men has remained tense for months. According to the Washington Post, Trump and Tillerson have rammed heads over major policy issues, including the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, and small annoyances, like the Secretary's habit of not returning Trump's phone calls.
Trump has also been irritated by the fact that Tillerson has advocated for a more traditional approach to foreign policy, the Post has reported in the past. The Secretary of State suggested a more diplomatic approach to North Korea and has voiced support for the U.S. to remain a party to the Iran nuclear deal – both of which have been ignored by Trump whose rhetoric has been populist at its core.
At one point, Tillerson had signalled that the U.S. should use direct lines of communication with North Korea. Trump took to Twitter to openly disagree with the nation’s top diplomat noting that Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to open up a dialogue with Pyongyang.
In October 2017, reports emerged that Tillerson had allegedly called Trump a “moron” after one of his meetings. It has also been reported that Tillerson had to be talked out of resigning in July 2017 and Vice President Mike Pence had to step in. Tillerson had to call a press conference to refute rumours of a rift with Trump, said, "I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that." He, however, did not deny outright that he had not made that alleged remark.
Rumours have continued to persist that Trump and the Secretary of State have reportedly been frustrated with each other for months, and the President has appeared, at times, to undercut Tillerson on foreign policy issues.
Most recently, the New York Times reported that the White House has a tentative plan to replace Tillerson. This was further confirmed by CNN and the Washington Post. The plan would have replaced Tillerson with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The White House would then have filled the CIA position with Republican Senator Tom Cotton who has in the past been described as a “hawkish” politician toeing the party line.
The White House did not provide clearly refute the reports. When asked about the latest development by reporters, Trump merely said, “He’s here. Rex is here.” "As the President just said, 'Rex is here,' " White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement adding, “Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire Cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump's administration. When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in. The president was here today with the secretary of state. They engaged in a foreign leader visit and are continuing to work together to close out what we’ve seen to be an incredible year.”
The CNN has further reported that the White House intentionally leaked the story in an effort to publicly shame Tillerson. Trump, reportedly remains deeply displeased with Tillerson who has taken a traditional and diplomatic approach to foreign policy. CNN further stated that “the hope from the White House, the source said, is to push out the plan to replace Tillerson and then "wait for him to punch out."
The state department meanwhile said that the reports are untrue. Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had called after the news reports broke and insisted they were false. “What I can tell you is that chief of staff Kelly called our department this morning and said that the rumours are not true, that those reports are not true. That is what I’ve been told,’ Nauert said. She, however, acknowledged that Tillerson and Trump had “areas of disagreement when it comes to policy.
The news of Tillerson’s possible ouster came just hours after another report emerged that the State Department had warned the White House against the President’s actions on Twitter. Trump had earlier retweeted unverified videos anti-Muslim videos originally posted by a member of a far-right political group called Britain First. The State Department then shared concerns that this could result in protests in American embassies around the world. The report was confirmed by the White House. "It didn't manifest in anything actionable, but it was a big concern," one State Department official said. "We saw in Cairo and other places that simply posting something on the internet, even if nothing was intended by it, could have real consequences."
If Tillerson is replaced or quits in the next few months, then he will have the shortest tenure as the Secretary of State. The last three first-term Secretaries of State — Warren Christopher, Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton — all remained in their posts for the entire term.
Our assessment is that the reports indicate a deep ideological and personal rift between America’s top foreign diplomat and the President. It is particularly disconcerting as currently there are a number of political crises across the world including a possible threat of nuclear war from North Korea. There are deep fractions in the Middle East as well with a impasse between Qatar and a Saudi Arabia led coalition and an escalating conflict between Saudi Arabia and Yemen. If Tillerson is replaced, then he would likely be viewed as one of the most underperforming Secretaries of State in U.S. history.