Secretary of State Rex Tillerson may not be on the best of terms with his boss, President Donald Trump.
In July, Tillerson described the president as a “moron” after Trump compared the strategic aspects of deciding on troop levels to opening a restaurant in New York City, according to NBC News. Only days later, after Trump aroused controversy by delivering a politically charged speech to a Boy Scouts convention, Tillerson (a former Boy Scouts head and Eagle Scout himself) did not even want to return to Washington from his son’s wedding in Texas.
It took the intervention of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to persuade Tillerson to come back.
Upon his return, Tillerson received what was described as a “pep talk” from Vice President Mike Pence, in which Tillerson was urged to find private ways of dealing with his differences with the president. Part of the motivation for the interventions by Mattis, Kelly and Pence was their concern that the optics would be terrible for the administration if one of its top cabinet members resigned.
In August, Trump and Tillerson clashed again, this time after Tillerson responded to the president’s Charlottesville remarks by saying, “the president speaks for himself.” According to NBC News:
The president, according to [State Department spokesperson R.C.] Hammond, told Tillerson he was upset with his comments when he saw them the first time. But, Hammond said Trump told Tillerson, after watching the interview a second and third time, the president understood that Tillerson was trying to say Trump is the best person to convey what his values are.
Still, the message was clear that Trump wanted Tillerson to defend him more, Hammond said.
The differences between Trump and Tillerson have also bled over into the realm of foreign policy. Tillerson has been reported to have differed with the president on matters like the Iran nuclear deal, the Saudi Arabian blockade of Qatar, and the questions of aid to Israel and sanctions against Venezuela.
Most recently, of course, Trump publicly undercut Tillerson’s attempt to find a diplomatic path in America’s fraught bilateral relationship with North Korea. His forum for doing so was, characteristically, Twitter.
…Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 1, 2017
Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department has been controversial for a number of other reasons. Tillerson has tried to curtail the State Department’s ability to prosecute war criminals, failing to adequately staff the department and then criticizing it as “not a highly disciplined organization,” failing to adequately perform his responsibilities at the United Nations and being sidelined in foreign policy by individuals like the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.