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Tillerson Unexpectedly at White House After News of Plan

The 'New York Times' says a plan for his ouster is in place
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 30, 2017 9:30 AM CST
Updated Nov 30, 2017 1:54 PM CST
NYT Reports There's a Plan to Boot Tillerson
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson answers a reporter's question about North Korea while he meets with German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, left, at the State Department in Washington on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

(Newser) Rumors of a planned ouster of Rex Tillerson are nothing new, but the New York Times reports it's learned of an actual plan to do so. Unnamed senior White House officials tell the paper that chief of staff John Kelly has created a transition plan, to be put in place just before or after the new year, that would see Tillerson out as secretary of state and CIA Director Mike Pompeo in; Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton would take Pompeo's place. The Times reports it doesn't know if Trump has signed off on the plan. A bite from the Times: "An end-of-year exit would make his time in office the shortest of any secretary of state whose tenure was not ended by a change in presidents in nearly 120 years."

  • Trump's comments: Tillerson's likely ouster loomed awkwardly over an Oval Office meeting Thursday between Trump and the visiting crown prince of Bahrain, reports the AP. Asked by a reporter whether he wanted Tillerson to stay on the job, Trump was coy, merely pointing out that Tillerson was in fact in the room for the meeting. "He's here. Rex is here," the president said.

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  • Change of plans: The Guardian notes a White House visit wasn't on Tillerson's Thursday schedule. He had been slated to speak instead at an event about global efforts to fight AIDS, but the State Department said late Wednesday he would be represented by his deputy instead.
  • A hint? White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday there were no staffing changes to announce and hinted that Tillerson would likely remain at least until year's end. "Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department, and the entire Cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump's administration," she said.
  • And a denial: The Wall Street Journal reports, without elaboration, that Kelly said reports that a plan has been developed around the removal of Tillerson aren't true.
  • But if it is... The Washington Post takes a visual look at how Tillerson's tenure would stack up against other secretaries of state should he be out by Dec. 15.
  • What the impact would be: The Guardian's take, should things occur as the Times suggests, is that "the immediate effect would be a cabinet that was on balance more personally loyal to Trump, and more hawkish, particularly on Iran. Both Pompeo and Cotton have been staunch opponents of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran. Cotton has been a longstanding advocate of military action, suggesting limited air strikes would be enough to contain the Iranian nuclear program."
  • Breath of fresh air? Though Politico describes Pompeo as lacking any formal diplomatic experience and widely viewed as "a hawk skeptical of the kind of international deal-making ... that many diplomats consider a necessary part of US foreign policy," its conversations with current and former State Department officials suggest that they'd take those flaws over Tillerson. It describes a department with low morale that has felt "sidelined" and diminished under the former ExxonMobil CEO.
  • But why? Axios outlines 5 reasons why Tillerson is on his way out, including the "most damning" of all: "When foreign leaders and diplomats hear Tillerson speak, they know he's not speaking for the president. They know this because Trump makes it abundantly clear, in public."
(Read more Rex Tillerson stories.)

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