President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE fired Secretary of State 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 on Tuesday in what many at the White House believe could be the first of a new round of high-profile changes within the administration.
White House officials were not sorry to see Tillerson go, viewing him as an ineffective leader who was rarely on the same page as Trump.
In a sign of the bitterness between the White House and Tillerson’s circle, officials joked about fighting for the right to fire one of Tillerson’s top spokesmen, Steven Goldstein, who had issued a statement that differed from the White House account of the secretary’s exit.
Tillerson did not thank the president in his farewell speech and barely mentioned him, underscoring the bad blood.
In his own remarks, Trump said he and Tillerson were never on the same “wavelength” while heaping praise on CIA Director Mike PompeoMike PompeoTrump administration mulled kidnapping, assassinating Julian Assange: report Republican lawmakers raise security, privacy concerns over Huawei cloud services WashPost fact-checker gives Pompeo four 'Pinocchios' for 'zombie' claim about Obama Iran deal MORE, whom he nominated as the next secretary of State.
Trump signaled that more changes could be on the way.
“I'm really at a point where we're getting very close to having the Cabinet and other things that I want,” he said.
Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinBiden's nominee for VA secretary isn't a veteran — does it matter? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Congress slogs toward COVID-19 relief, omnibus deal A crisis that unites veterans MORE could be next on the chopping block. Shulkin has been badly hobbled by an inspector general report that found he misused taxpayer money for lavish vacations. Shulkin has also been clashing with Trump political appointees on his own staff. The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening that Shulkin could be replaced by Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryRepublicans are the 21st-century Know-Nothing Party College football move rocks Texas legislature Trump tries to spin failed Texas endorsement: 'This was a win' MORE.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster has been on thin ice for some time. Like Tillerson, he has never clicked with the president.
Trump has long expressed his frustration with Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE, blaming him for Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s special counsel investigation and fuming that he has not done enough to investigate Democrats.
And chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE, once viewed as untouchable, has been under fire for his defense of a senior aide who resigned after being accused of domestic abuse by both of his ex-wives. The president is also believed to be frustrated by the narrative in the press that Kelly acts as his minder.
Trump has developed a reputation for venting against those who displease him, allowing them to twist in the wind with their futures in doubt rather than firing them outright.
But some in Trump’s inner circle think the president could use the momentum from Tillerson’s ouster for a purge.
“He needs to spend every day this week cleaning house so that the public and the press are so overwhelmed by the changes that there’s not enough time to absorb them all,” said one top Republican with deep ties to the administration. “That way, three weeks from now, it’s over, the Band-Aid is off and we’re back to focusing on the agenda.”
While the Tillerson news was cheered at the White House, the seemingly constant state of upheaval and turnover in the West Wing has been demoralizing to staff.
On Tuesday, the White House was reeling from the loss of John McEntee, Trump’s personal assistant, who was well-liked in the West Wing and close with the president. McEntee appears to be the latest casualty of Kelly’s enforcement of the security clearances process.
Other recent departures include communications director Hope HicksHope HicksThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records UPDATED: McEnany, Fox News talks on pause MORE, staff secretary Rob Porter, senior adviser Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE’s spokesman Josh Raffel and Kushner’s longtime family friend Reed Cordish. Those departures have left the White House with big shoes to fill in key roles.
“It’s one thing when it’s expected, no one will shed a tear over Tillerson,” said one GOP operative with close ties to the White House. “But when it’s unexpected, like with McEntee — the punch that hurts the most is the one you don’t see coming. That’s the kind of thing that shakes people to their core.”
The Hill asked a White House official on Tuesday what other changes were ahead, considering it is still so early in the week.
“I know, it feels like Friday,” the official said.
While Tillerson’s surprise ouster came as good news to the president’s allies, the sudden announcement and ensuing back and forth with the State Department had a whiff of chaos to it.
Trump announced over Twitter that Tillerson would be replaced by Pompeo moments after The Washington Post reported it.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time,” Trump told reporters.
But Goldstein, the State Department spokesman, blasted out an email to reporters saying the move had come as a surprise to Tillerson.
The White House promptly fired Goldstein and scrambled to produce its own version of events.
Officials said Kelly called Tillerson twice between Friday and Sunday to tell him that he would be replaced upon his return from Africa.
“They wanted to let him know once the decision had been made, but waited until he got back to make an announcement,” an administration official said.
Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Paul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book MORE (R-Wis.) was informed of the decision on Monday during a conference call with Trump and Kelly.
That message did not trickle down to staff at State, sources tell The Hill, as Tillerson’s chief of staff Margaret Peterlin was pushing to hire new personnel on a conference call with White House officials as recently as Monday, apparently unaware that her boss had effectively been relieved of his duties.
Still, State Department career staff members had for months imagined Tillerson's tenure would be short-lived and had even been wagering on how quickly it might happen.
In the past year, department staffers described the secretary as remote, secluded, unapproachable and opaque with underlings not in the upper echelons of his team.
“As secretary of State, you usually have a base of support that comes either from the foreign policy establishment, the foreign service crowd, the political crowd or the press,” said the senior Republican. “I’ve never seen someone so brilliantly unite all of those factions against them the way Tillerson did.”
Scott Wong contributed