Tillerson: I’ll Be Sec. Of State ‘As Long As The President Thinks I’m Useful’

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with the Holy See Secretary for Relations with States Paul Gallagher, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson batted away rumors of his imminent departure in an interview with the Wall Street Journal Thursday, but acknowledged his differences with President Donald Trump.

“I see those differences in how we think,” Tillerson told the Journal. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” he added separately. “And I’m not of any use to the President if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

One solution, Tillerson told the paper, had been “[d]elivering the incremental wins.”

He added: “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Tillerson held a press conference on Oct. 4 to refute rumors of his clashes with Trump. NBC News had reported that Tillerson called Trump a “moron” in a meeting with senior national security officials over the summer after Trump had suggested a dramatic increase in the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Tillerson hasn’t specifically denied that story, but he did say in the press conference that “my commitment to the success of our President” was a strong as the day he started.

He maintained a similar attitude in his interview Thursday: “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?” he asked the Journal, referring to rumors of his resignation.

Trump has largely ignored the secretary of state’s role as the country’s lead diplomat, leaning more heavily on the military staff that surrounds him in both national security capacities and as senior White House officials, including his chief of staff, John Kelly. Long-term State Department staffers have reportedly complained of Trump’s sidelining of the department.

Tillerson told the Journal he would stay in the job “as long as the President thinks I’m useful.”

The Journal’s reporters, Michael C. Bender and Felicia Schwartz, captured what was perhaps a telling moment:

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK