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 TrumpHannity urges Trump not to fire 'anybody' after Rosenstein report Ben Carson appears to tie allegation against Kavanaugh to socialist plot Five takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke's fiery first debate MORE’s abrupt firing of Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonPompeo working to rebuild ties with US diplomats: report NYT says it was unfair on Haley curtain story Rubio defends Haley over curtains story: Example of media pushing bias 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 PompeoPositive Moon-Kim summit creates a diplomatic opening in North Korea The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh, accuser say they’re prepared to testify Haley wasn’t invited to key White House meeting on refugee policy: 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 GrahamKim, Moon toss ball to Trump in ‘last, best chance’ for Korean peace GOP senator: Kavanaugh accuser 'moving the goalposts' Collins: Kavanaugh accuser should 'reconsider,' testify on Monday 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 CorkerPoll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it Ford opens door to testifying next week Police arrest nearly two dozen Kavanaugh protesters 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 McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ 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 ThuneGoogle says it continues to allow apps to access Gmail user data Fight looms over national privacy law Want to improve health care? Get Americans off of their couches 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 CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford 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 CottonSprint/T-Mobile deal must not allow China to threaten US security GOP senators condemn 'vulgar' messages directed at Collins over Kavanaugh GOP turns its fire on Google 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 HicksWhite House aides tried to get Trump to fact-check his tweets: Woodward book Omarosa: Trump hired Hope Hicks because she is pretty Trump officials pushing Hope Hicks to join 2020 campaign: report MORE, staff secretary Rob Porter, chief of staff Reince PriebusReinhold (Reince) Richard PriebusBannon says right must support ‘RINOs’ CNN: Trump searching for Woodward sources in White House Woodward book rocks Trump White House 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 SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation 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 DurbinGrassley to administration: You must consult Congress on refugee cap Overnight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment 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) MenendezDems urge tech companies to remove 3D-gun blueprints Dem senators introduce resolution calling on Trump to stop attacking the press Booming economy has Trump taking a well-deserved victory lap 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.