Aug 27, 2017

Scoop: Trump frustration with Tillerson rising fast

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

There's a ticking problem with Rex Tillerson, and it's growing louder by the day, according to officials inside and close to the White House. President Trump has been growing increasingly frustrated with his Secretary of State. One time recently, after Trump had returned from a meeting on Afghanistan, a source recalled Trump saying, "Rex just doesn't get it, he's totally establishment in his thinking."

Why this matters: We've been hearing for weeks, from sources who've spoken to the president, that Trump is getting more and more fed up with Tillerson, who has still yet to staff his agency.

Tillerson's jaw-dropping comments on TV today will likely only worsen their relationship. Fox News Sunday moderator Chris Wallace asked Tillerson about Trump's response to the racist carnage in Charlottesville. Tillerson replied: "I don't believe anyone doubts the American people's values or the commitment of the American government, or the government's agencies to advancing those values and defending those values."Wallace asked the obvious follow-up question: "And the president's values?" "The president speaks for himself," Tillerson said.Wallace looked stunned.

The Tillerson criticisms we keep hearing
  • Trump administration officials can't get their heads around why he still doesn't have political appointees in the top roles at the State Department. They know he's reorganizing the agency, but can't fathom why he's allowed these crucial jobs to remain in the hands of staff whose diplomatic stature is diminished because they're "acting" in the roles.Tillerson's spokesman R.C. Hammond told Axios it's because "the system is busted. The Secretary sends over recommendations and they sit on the dock."
  • Tillerson hasn't put in the time to build goodwill with Washington's foreign policy community or with the media.
  • Numerous reports that Tillerson has destroyed morale at State, empowering only the tiniest inner circle.
  • Tillerson contradicted the president's response to the recent tensions over Qatar.Trump attacked Qatar for funding terrorism "at a very high level", and supported the Saudi-led blockade. Tillerson muddied Trump's message, urging Qatar's neighbors to ease up on the blockade and engage in "calm and thoughtful dialogue."Hammond's response: "On Qatar, progress will be measured in months and we are seeing it."
  • Tillerson argued against the White House's financial sanctions against the dictatorial regime in Venezuela, according to sources close to the White House. These sources pointed to the influence on Tillerson of Tom Shannon, a top State careerist who is an expert on Latin America.Sources close to the president view Shannon as a rogue force who, in their view, naively puts too much faith in diplomacy at the expense of hardline actions like sanctions.Shannon's recent meeting with Venezuela's then-foreign minister — at the same time the WH was contemplating tough action against Venezuela — raised eyebrows among Republican hawks.Hammond's response: "Yes, diplomats do prefer diplomacy."
  • Tillerson keeps recommending to Trump that he re-certify Iran's compliance with the nuclear deal; whereas Trump has made clear he wants to cancel it. Hammond's response: "This admin inherited a lousy deal. It's taking the circumstances created by the Deal and trying to build around it a policy that addresses all of the threats Iran offers the world."
  • White House officials frequently vent about Tillerson's Chief of Staff Margaret Peterlin. They say she's difficult to work with and isolatesthe secretary from the information and contacts he needs to do his job well. Hammond's response: "It is Washington, you have to have your knives out for someone."

A White House official said, "Tillerson is a great representative for the administration and has confronted many diplomatic challenges well."

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,929,312 — Total deaths: 357,781 — Total recoveries — 2,385,926Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 1,709,996 — Total deaths: 101,002 — Total recoveries: 391,508 — Total tested: 15,192,481Map.
  3. States: New York to allow private businesses to deny entry to customers without masks.
  4. Public health: Louisiana Sen. Cassidy wants more frequent testing of nursing home workers.
  5. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  6. Business: Louisiana senator says young people are key to reopening the economy —U.S. GDP drop revised lower to 5% in the first quarter.
  7. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

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Twitter fact-checks Chinese official's claims that coronavirus originated in U.S.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

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