Tillerson under pressure after White House plan leaks

Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Supreme Court lets Texas abortion law stand Trump-era ban on travel to North Korea extended Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE’s days at the State Department appear to be numbered.  

Speculation about Tillerson’s future as secretary of State reached a fever pitch on Thursday after multiple reports detailed a White House plan to replace him with CIA Director Mike PompeoMike PompeoThe CIA's next mission: Strategic competition with China and Russia Biden, Trump tied in potential 2024 match-up: poll Why is Trump undermining his administration's historic China policies? MORE

The White House stopped short of denying the reports and refused to say whether President Trump still has confidence in his embattled top diplomat.  

“When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity that they're in,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. 

Sanders later said that “there are no personnel announcements at this time.” 

Asked about the reports earlier Thursday, Trump would only say “Rex is here.”


State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert issued a more forceful denial, telling reporters that White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE called Tillerson’s top aide to shoot down the reports. 

Nauert tried to portray an air of normalcy in Foggy Bottom. 

She highlighted Tillerson’s Thursday trip to the White House to sit in on Trump’s meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, and announced he would leave Monday for a five-day trip to Europe. 

"He’s heard these kinds of stories before,” she said. “He’s just going on about his business.” 

Thursday marked the latest humiliation for Tillerson, but the secretary of State has managed to remain in his role despite near-constant rumors about an early departure. 

Just days ago, Tillerson’s stock within the administration appeared to be on the rise, making it seem likely he would achieve his rumored goal of serving for at least a year. 

Tillerson was a constant presence during Trump’s 13-day trip to Asia and made a rare appearance in the White House briefing room last Monday to announce North Korea’s addition to the U.S. list of state sponsors of terror. 

But the latest reports had Washington buzzing that the former ExxonMobil CEO’s widely expected exit — what some have dubbed the “Rexit” — is now imminent.  

If Tillerson were ousted before the end of the year, he would become one of the shortest-serving secretaries of State in U.S. history.

The White House is expected to move Pompeo into the State Department in the next several weeks, with Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonIs the Navy totally at sea? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - House debt vote today; Biden struggles to unite Arkansas legislature splits Little Rock in move that guarantees GOP seats MORE (R-Ark.) taking his place at the CIA, according to multiple media reports.  

Trump, however, has not yet signed off on the plan, according to The New York Times, which first reported it. 

Pompeo has become known as one of the most loyal officials in the Trump administration, forging a strong bond with the president. Tillerson, in contrast, has frequently butted heads with Trump over personnel and policy. 

Cotton has also been a vocal supporter of Trump’s foreign policy approach. 

The reports, which were attributed to White House sources, appeared to be a coordinated effort to shame Tillerson into resigning. 

It’s the culmination of months of tensions between Trump and Tillerson that has left the secretary of State virtually powerless.  

The president has contradicted Tillerson on a raft of hot-button issues, from a regional dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors to the Iran nuclear deal and the showdown with North Korea. 

Tillerson and the White House have had constant disagreements about staffing decisions at the State Department, where many senior positions remain unfilled. 

Tillerson also ruffled feathers at the White House by declining to send a State delegation with Ivanka Trump this week to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India. 

The Trump-Tillerson relationship had appeared to reach a low point in October, when NBC News reported the secretary of State called the president a “moron” behind his back following a major national security meeting at the Pentagon. 

The State Department later denied the report, and Tillerson was forced to appear on camera to defend his relationship with Trump.  

Trump responded by offering to compare IQ scores with Tillerson, but later offered him a vote of confidence. 

The incidents laid bare the distance between Trump and his secretary of State, indicating to world leaders that he lacked influence at the White House and did not speak reliably for the president. 

Many Democrats and career diplomats had hoped Tillerson, who is seen as a moderate on many foreign policy issues, would serve as a check on Trump. 

Instead, they were incensed by the deep budget cuts and massive reorganization he tried to carry out at the State Department, moves they say hollowed out the agency.   

“From a managerial perspective, he has been pretty much a disaster for the department,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official who now serves as senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. “It’s hard to imagine whoever comes after would possibly be worse.”

Key Republicans on Capitol Hill indicated they were not pleased with the White House’s effort to dump Tillerson, but few made a full-throated case for him to stay in his job.  

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-Tenn.) called the replacement plan “bogus” after a lengthy meeting Thursday with Tillerson, where he said the secretary of State disputed the reports. 

“It’s inaccurate,” Corker said. 

Cory Fritz, a spokesman for House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed RoyceEdward (Ed) Randall RoyceBottom line Bottom line California was key factor in House GOP's 2020 success MORE (R-Calif.), called Tillerson "an important partner in efforts to address North Korean and Iranian threats."

"His departure has not been discussed," he said.

Alexander Bolton contributed.