GOP senators see Tillerson ouster as the new normal

GOP senators see Tillerson ouster as the new normal
© Greg Nash

Republican senators on Tuesday said they were not surprised by President TrumpDonald John TrumpAccuser says Trump should be afraid of the truth Woman behind pro-Trump Facebook page denies being influenced by Russians Shulkin says he has White House approval to root out 'subversion' at VA MORE’s abrupt firing of Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonFormer WH adviser: Trump will want to rejoin Paris climate pact by 2020 Why the US should lead on protecting Rohingya Muslims 'Bolivarian Diaspora' can no longer be ignored MORE, with some acknowledging they’ve grown numb to the president’s unorthodox style of governing.

While senators didn’t receive advance notice of Tillerson’s firing, several said it had been clear for some time that he was on the outs with the president.

“People are getting used to this being what life is like under President Trump,” said a GOP senator, who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations with colleagues.

The lawmaker said it would be better if there was more stability within the administration but there was little that could be done to change Trump’s management style.

“This has become the norm,” the source added, expressing regret over the departure of Tillerson and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. “Change has been in the air now for 14 months.”

Vice President Pence didn’t offer an explanation for why Trump fired his secretary of State when he spoke to senators at a lunch meeting Tuesday, according to lawmakers who attended.

He ignored a shouted question from a Fox News reporter about whether the White House is in “chaos” as he walked into the lunch meeting, where he touted the credentials of CIA Director Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe CIA may need to call White House to clarify Russia meddling Intel agencies to brief officials from all 50 states on election threats Russia probe complicating House hearing on threats facing US: report MORE, whom Trump has nominated to replace Tillerson.  

Lawmakers suspect that Trump wanted to have a new foreign policy team in place ahead of talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I knew they were talking about making the change, but I didn’t know it was coming this soon. I think a lot of it was driven by the North Korea negotiations, wanting to have the team he’s most comfortable with,” said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Pence tours Rio Grande between US and Mexico GOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures MORE (R-S.C.).

Many GOP senators are happy that Trump nominated Pompeo, a former House Republican lawmaker, to take the reins of the State Department. But several senators, including senior members of the Foreign Relations Committee, thought Tillerson was doing a good job and liked his process-oriented management style.

“I know him very, very well and talk with him often,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R-Tenn.) said of his relationship with Tillerson.

Corker said he didn’t receive any heads-up on Tillerson’s firing, which Trump announced on Twitter on Tuesday morning, but added that he wasn’t that surprised, given the clashing styles of the president and top diplomat.

“You’ve got a very entrepreneurial president and you’ve got a secretary of State who is more of a process person and puts things into place. It just hasn’t been a perfect relationship,” Corker added. “While I was unaware of it, and I spoke to both of them last week, I wasn’t surprised.”

The shakeup at the State Department and the CIA throws a wrench into the Senate schedule.

The Senate has one more week of work and then a two-week recess, which means Pompeo and Gina Haspel, Trump’s nominee to replace Pompeo as CIA director, are unlikely to be confirmed until the spring.

Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, could face opposition from members of both parties because she ran a CIA “black site” prison during the George W. Bush administration.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.) warned in a statement that Haspel would have to explain her record on the torture of suspected terrorists.

“Ms. Haspel needs to explain the nature and extent of her involvement in the CIA’s interrogation program during the confirmation process,” he said.

The GOP leadership expressed some frustration Tuesday that they would have to find more time on the schedule for a grinding confirmation fight when they’re trying to find floor time for a sex-trafficking bill, the omnibus spending package and other priorities.

“I’d rather be working on legislation,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneFlake to try to force vote on DACA stopgap plan Congress punts fight over Dreamers to March The 14 GOP senators who voted against Trump’s immigration framework MORE (S.D.).

The Senate confirmed Tillerson to head the State Department just over a year ago by a vote of 56-43. The chamber confirmed Pompeo as CIA director in January 2017.

Senate Republican Whip John CornynJohn CornynLawmakers feel pressure on guns Kasich’s campaign website tones down gun language after Florida shooting Murphy: Trump’s support for background check bill shows gun politics ‘shifting rapidly’ MORE (Texas) and Thune, the second- and third-ranking members of the Senate leadership, respectively, said they did not receive any advance warning from the White House about Tillerson’s ouster.

Only Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP looks for Plan B after failure of immigration measures Senate rejects Trump immigration plan Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (R-Ark.), who is close to Pompeo, said he had “indications” that there would be an imminent change at State. Previous reports about the White House moving Pompeo to State had floated Cotton as a possible replacement at the CIA.

Democrats on Tuesday criticized the high rate of turnover at senior administration officials as a sign of disorder and instability.

Other high-profile departures from the White House include Cohn, communications director Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksJohn Kelly — like this whole White House — is done Mueller interviews former Trump legal spokesman: report Liberals undermine #MeToo with partisan attacks MORE, staff secretary Rob Porter, chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusPriebus on chaos in Trump White House: ‘Take everything you’ve heard and multiply it by 50’ Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future Priebus claims he helped stop Trump from firing Sessions MORE, senior political adviser Stephen Bannon, presidential personal assistant John McEntee and communications aide Josh Raffel.

“What President Trump did and the way he did it once again indicates the chaos in this administration,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerDemocrats now attack internet rules they once embraced Schumer: Trump budget would ‘cripple’ gun background checks Schumer: Senate Republicans' silence 'deafening' on guns, Russia MORE (N.Y.) told reporters. “Their inability to have a center, the inability to have a consistent policy … it’s creating huge problems.”

Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinAmerica’s waning commitment to the promise of the First Amendment Senate rejects Trump immigration plan What to watch for in the Senate immigration votes MORE (Ill.) added, “The departure of major players from this administration has been historic and worrisome.”

Durbin said he had “questions” about Haspel’s record on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding.

Sen. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezJustice Dept intends to re-try Menendez in corruption case DACA is neither bipartisan nor in America's interest Senate DACA deal picks up GOP supporters MORE (D-N.J.), a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said he looks forward to “a full vetting of Director Pompeo.”

“They are a different set of skills. Being CIA director [requires] one set of skills. Being secretary of State requires diplomatic skills,” Menendez added.

Jordain Carney contributed.