U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is headed to Europe next week with more than just physical baggage amidst reports and whispers that the White House is planning to remove him from his position, reports Bloomberg.
On Thursday, Trump administration officials privately said the president is looking to replace Tillerson with current CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The New York Times also reports the plan includes replacing Pompeo at the CIA with Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton. When asked about it publicly, officials gave a defense of the secretary of state that was halfhearted at best. President Donald Trump, notably, didn’t answer at all and instead completely sidestepped the question.
All of that combined doesn’t look good for Tillerson, according to Thomas Wright, director of the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution, who called it a “death blow” on Thursday. It’s especially bad considering his upcoming diplomatic trip to Brussels, Vienna and Paris because “the secretary of state is only powerful in the sense that he’s a voice for the president or the administration,” and it’s clear this president and his administration do not like or trust Tillerson that much these days.
Now Tillerson will have to deal with facing foreign leaders who are wondering about his ability and credibility.
Being undermined and discredited on key issues relating to his job isn’t new to Tillerson over the course of his ten months in office. In October, he told reporters in China that the U.S. was talking to North Korean officials through diplomatic back channels. Trump then promptly tweeted that his “wonderful” secretary of state was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” in reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But reports that he’s not only on his way out, but that there’s also a replacement lined up already, are the most damaging hits to his credibility yet.
The relationship between White House staff and those who work closely with Tillerson took a notable turn for the sour during the summer. Trump made widely-criticized remarks about the racial protests that turned violent and then deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia and then made a politically-charged speech to the Boy Scouts of America, which is an organization Tillerson once led. In October, things got even worse when it came to light that Tillerson had called the president a “moron.”
White House officials have also said Trump dislikes Tillerson’s reserved nature and his “establishment” way of thinking. The two rarely agree on policy from the Paris Accords to issues between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Still, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert says Tillerson is continuing with a “robust” agenda and doing all his work as scheduled. If it’s true that Tillerson will be out of a job before the year is out, it will be one of the shortest tenures as secretary of state in modern times.