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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

Toyota to build $1.3 billion U.S. battery plant in North Carolina

The all-electric Toyota bZ4X, the company's first battery-electric vehicle, at the Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California on Nov. 17. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Toyota announced Monday it's investing $1.3 billion to construct an electric vehicle battery "megasite" near Greensboro, North Carolina, set to open in 2025.

Why it matters: Toyota's Prius hybrid won environmental plaudits when it launched in 1997, but it has since lost ground to electric vehicle world leader Tesla, per Axios' Joann Muller. This battery plant will be the first to produce automotive batteries for Toyota in North America.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.