President Trump brushed aside reports that he is considering replacing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, though multiple news outlets say Tillerson could be shown the door within weeks.
Pressed about those reports Thursday morning during an Oval Office meeting, Trump said only: “He’s here. Rex is here.”
The cryptic answer did little to dispel speculation that Tillerson’s days as the country’s top diplomat could be numbered.
The New York Times and other outlets are reporting that Tillerson could be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. In turn, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is reportedly a top contender to take Pompeo’s place running the spy agency.
Tillerson — a former CEO of Exxon Mobil — has had a rocky tenure at the State Department. He came into the position with no government or diplomatic experience and has frequently found himself at odds with the president on issues such as the value of the Iran nuclear deal and the standoff between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
In early October, reports surfaced that Tillerson had called the president a “moron.” He pointedly did not dispute those accounts.
Tillerson was thought to have an ally in White House chief of staff John Kelly. But according to reports, which NPR has not independently confirmed, Kelly crafted the plan to replace the secretary. Pompeo has risen in the president’s estimation during frequent White House intelligence briefings. And Cotton’s views are closely aligned with Trump’s on Iran and immigration.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders echoed the president’s comment that Tillerson hasn’t been replaced.
“There are no personnel announcements at this time,” Sanders said in a statement. “Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire Cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration.”
Any shake-up would come at a difficult time for the State Department, which critics say has been hollowed out during the Trump administration. The president has called for cutting the department’s budget by nearly a third.