Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pauses while speaking to State Department employees, Wednesday, May 3, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rex Tillerson’s performance as Secretary of State has been spotty at best, and his relationship with President Donald Trump has been even worse than that.
Rumors have been flying for months that Tillerson’s tenure at State would be short-lived, but a new report today suggests that, within a matter of weeks, he’d be out the door and replaced by Mike Pompeo, who currently heads up the CIA.
Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump has given final approval to the plan, but he has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department.
John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, developed the transition plan and has discussed it with other officials. Under his plan, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward.
Now, normally with unnamed media reports, you should show a bit of skepticism, and when it comes to the New York Times, where this story originates, a healthy dose of skepticism is warranted.
However, if you look at the piece’s authors, you’ll see a familiar name: Maggie Haberman.
Haberman has been good on reporting this administration in a fairly unbiased way, and there are rumors/jokes that she frequently speaks with Trump directly. On top of that, you know good and well that Trump (either directly or indirectly) likes to put stories about people he doesn’t like, out there himself, in order to justify going after or getting rid of that person later.
So, I think we can take this with a little more than a grain of salt.
The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobile chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.
The problem, of course, will come over succession. Right now, Pompeo appears to be the favorite for Tillerson’s job, but it’s Pompeo’s replacement that would be even more interesting in that scenario: Tom Cotton.
Mr. Cotton has been perhaps Mr. Trump’s most important supporter in the Senate on national security and immigration and a valued outside adviser. Officials cautioned that there was still a debate about whether Mr. Cotton was more valuable to the president in the Senate than taking in over the spy agency in Langley, Va., but he is the consensus choice at the moment.
Under Arkansas state law, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, would appoint a replacement who could serve until the 2018 election. If Mr. Cotton stayed in the Senate, his seat would not be up for election again until 2020.
There’s the risk. That Senate seat is going to be valuable, and taking the right guy out of there and risking the wrong one going in could be damaging to Trump’s legislative goals – the Senate is floundering enough as it is.
It is an interesting transition, and 2018 is going to prove to be a very, very interesting year in Washington D.C. (for better or for worse).