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How Much More Can Tillerson Take?

Being secretary of state is quite different than heading Exxon—and Rex may not like it
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 9, 2017 8:51 AM CDT

(Newser) – "I don't know. I'm not a diplomat" is an odd statement to make if you're a high-ranking US Cabinet official tasked with critical matters of diplomacy. Yet those words were uttered by the US secretary of state during a September meeting at the UN regarding Iran's nuclear weapons program, the kickoff anecdote in Dexter Filkins' deep dive in the New Yorker into the Trump administration oddity that is Rex Tillerson. From a hardscrabble childhood in Texas, Tillerson ascended to the top of the Exxon hierarchy, where he got used to calling the shots and making major decisions of his own volition. It's a drastically different role than his current post as President Trump's foreign policy chief, where the reticent former executive now finds himself in a job "marked by strife and confusion" and "uncomfortably subordinate to an unpredictable man," Filkins writes.

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The story delves into Tillerson's "mixed" legacy at Exxon, including his attempts to rehab the company's image on climate change, as well as an almost obsessive drive to make multibillion-dollar deals with overseas entities, even those that may have flouted US foreign policy; his "very close" relationship to Vladimir Putin receives special note. His challenges now are quite different, including a high number of vacancies in the State Department, a seeming inability to keep up with the day-to-day, and a reportedly sour relationship with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. "Rex … f---ing hates her," one official says. The undercutting of Tillerson's efforts by the president himself is only adding to the pile-on that has observers wondering how much more he can take. "Tillerson was contemplating his retirement from Exxon, after which he could do whatever he wanted. … Now he's got to feel like he's covered in s---," one aide says. "I can't imagine this is what he expected." Entire profile here. (Read more Rex Tillerson stories.)

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