According to The New York Times, senior Trump administration officials say that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo in the very near future.
The ostensible plan for the White House would be to install Pompeo as Secretary of State and replace him at the CIA with Alabama Sen. Tom Cotton. The officials said Cotton has intimated that he would accept the job if offered. The Times writes that General John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, created the agenda and discussed it with other officials.
The Times theorizes that because of Trump’s reluctance to fire people, the leak of Tillerson’s ouster is meant to catalyze him into leaving himself. Trump and Tillerson have had some personal contretemps; Tillerson reportedly called Trump a “moron,” while Trump slammed Tillerson for “wasting his time” when Tillerson attempted a dialogue with North Korea.
But the rift goes deeper than that; there are actual policy differences between the two men. As CNN reported in October, Tillerson thought the problem with the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal) was not the JCPOA, but the legislation forcing the president to certify it every 90 days, rather than to “put the nuclear deal in the corner,” according to one senior administration official. Trump has considered scrapping the deal altogether.
In October, Tillerson called a press conference to insist that he supported Trump, but did not deny that he had privately called him a “moron.” The New York Times reported, “Although he insisted he had never considered resigning, several people close to Mr. Tillerson said he has had to be talked out of drafting a letter of resignation on more than one occasion by his closest allies.”
If Cotton moves over to the CIA, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, would appoint a replacement who would serve until the 2018 election. Caroline Rabbitt Tabler, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cotton, only said, “Sen. Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”
Tillerson has done yeoman work in revamping and reducing the notoriously difficult and bloated State Department; he offered a $25,000 buyout to cajole roughly 2,000 career diplomats and civil servants to leave by October 2018.