Rumors have circulated for months that Rex Tillerson’s time at the helm of the State Department might soon be coming to the end. Tensions between the two men – who could forget “morongate”? – have apparently worsened since the spring, when reports first emerged that Tillerson and Trump had different views on important foreign policy issues like the Iran deal and North Korea. Trump was famously accused of “castrating” his secretary of state in the eyes of the global diplomatic community when he chided Tillerson not to bother pursuing diplomatic talks with the North Koreans.
Pompeo has long been rumored (as we pointed out in October) to be Tillerson’s obvious replacement, given his foreign policy expertise as head of the CIA and a reportedly close relationship with Trump – the two meet every day for Trump’s intelligence briefing. Pompeo’s reportedly become “a trusted policy adviser” to the president, according to the Times. Before the CIA, Pompeo was a Congressman from Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana.
And now, the New York Times is reporting that Tillerson could be out “within weeks.” For the former ExxonMobile CEO, an end-of-year exit would make his time in office the shortest of any secretary of state whose tenure was not ended by a change in presidents in nearly 120 years. Tillerson has reportedly been holding out until year end to try to preserve some dignity.
Pompeo would then be replaced at the CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
The Times reporting comes with one important caveat: It’s still not immediately clear whether Trump has given final approval to the plan, but he has been said to have soured on Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department.
White House chief of staff John Kelly developed the transition plan and has discussed it with other officials, who presumably shared it with the Times. Under his plan, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward.
As the Times points out, Tillerson’s tenure has been marred by “turbulent” relations with his boss:
The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobile chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.
Pompeo’s move is, of course, a setback for Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the UN, a position that’s typically seen as a stepping stone to leading the state department.
Cotton’s promotion wouldbe a reward for one of Trump’s most loyal supporters in the Senate on national security and immigration issues. However, Cotton’s ascension is not yet completely assured: There’s still some debate about whether he’d be more use to Trump in Langley, or in the senate.
If Cotton leaves, his seat will be up for grabs in 2018.
Tillerson would mark the latest in a string of more than a dozen high-profile departures from the Trump administration during its first year. He’s also probably the most high-profile figure to depart since Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned after being exposed for taking expensive chartered flights at taxpayer expense.
…and (maybe) Rex Tillerson?