White House Departure of the Week: Rex Tillerson

The latest exit through the revolving door at the White House is that of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump announced in a tweet on March 13 that he was firing Tillerson, hours before he actually delivered the news to Tillerson in person. Rex Tillerson is the second person in the Trump administration, after James Comey, to learn of his firing hours after the public became aware.

Trump tweeted, “Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

As Seth Meyers quipped, “Even when you get fired from Domino’s, the manager takes you into that…little office and tells you to your face.”

Ongoing Friction

Donald Trump has said that Mike Pompeo, a former Tea Party Congressman, is more in line with Trump’s policy agenda than Rex Tillerson was. Pompeo has supported walking away from the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, as does Trump, though Tillerson disagrees. And Pompeo, a climate change skeptic, has criticized the Paris Climate Accord, while Rex Tillerson urged Trump, unsuccessfully, to honor the United States’ agreement.

Rex Tillerson also clashed with Trump on the approach to possible talks with North Korea. Tillerson has suggested that the U.S. reach out to North Korea, though Trump dismissed Tillerson’s position. Last week, however, Trump, excluding Rex Tillerson from his new decision, accepted North Korea’s offer to talk, and expects to skip the customary preliminary discussions (which Tillerson, as Secretary of State, supported, and would have run).

Perhaps the final straw in the tenuous Trump-Tillerson relationship, however, was the way Rex Tillerson responded to recent events in London. After the attempted poisoning in London of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter, Tillerson stated (supported by clear evidence) that the act  “Clearly came from Russia,” and that the incident “(would) trigger a response.” The next day, Trump tweeted the announcement of Rex Tillerson’s replacement.

It’s not difficult to see that anyone who doesn’t share Trump’s view of reality is fair game for the axe. The White House official narrative of Rex Tillerson’s dismissal is that Tillerson and Trump had been discussing Tillerson’s departure for “a long time.” In response to the White House account, on the other hand, State Department Undersecretary Steve Goldstein said that Rex Tillerson was “unaware of the reason for his dismissal, and had every intention of staying.” Goldstein has now also joined the list of White House casualties.

“Worst Secretary of State”

We should note that, just as Betsy DeVos is known as the “most hated Cabinet member” of the Trump White House, Rex Tillerson is considered by many to be “one of the worst secretaries of State in history,” according to Eliot Cohen, counselor to the State Department under President George W. Bush.

Tillerson’s actions, or more accurately, his inactions, have “weakened the State Department for a generation,” says Elizabeth Saunders, of George Washington University.

According to the American Foreign Service Association, during Rex Tillerson’s tenure, 60 percent of our top-ranking career diplomats have resigned. Foreign Service applications have decreased by 50 percent. Tillerson failed to appoint people to key positions such as that of ambassador to South Korea, and more than 100 diplomatic and related positions are still unfilled. Along with Tillerson’s initiative to “overhaul” the State Department and pare back its personnel, a result of these developments is that most officers of color, as well as senior women, are no longer there.

Who is Next?

Following his firing of Rex Tillerson, Trump said that he was “really at a point where we’re getting very close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”

Here are some speculations about who might be next to follow Rex Tillerson out the White House door:

  • National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin

And, as with James Comey and Rex Tillerson, will the public learn of the next Trump Administration housecleaning casualty before the actual victim does?

Why Did Trump Fire Tillerson?  |  Fox Business [2018-03-13]

Behind Rex Tillerson’s Firing as Secretary of State  |  CBS This Morning [2018-03-14]

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