Politics, North America
After a fraught first year, and though he is still far from popular, the secretary has won fresh plaudits and has quietly built new support both at Foggy Bottom and among key Republicans.
A State Department official, a holdover from the John Kerry era, tells me of his newfound respect for Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s once-beleaguered chief diplomat. Tillerson is “tough,” “reasonable” and a bulwark against more chaotic elements from the White House, and more ideological moves from the vice president’s office, this official argues. In charge of sensitive preparations ahead of Tillerson’s foreign visits and receptions of international leaders, this person, not a personal supporter of the president, praises the secretary’s poise, work ethic and candor. Such a testimonial clashes with some of the more lurid assessments of Tillerson’s tenure in 2017: a secretary who was said to be gutting the department at record pace, had completely lost the faith of the president, and was imminently headed for the exit gates. Tillerson isn’t going anywhere, at least in the immediate future, predicted this official. “Rex is here,” as the president once put it.
This could be because Tillerson was quietly built new support among some at Foggy Bottom and among key Congressional Republicans in early months of 2018.
A prominent Trump-supporting Congressman, and staple on right-wing television and radio (including Fox News), tells me that Tillerson and Jim Mattis, the Defense secretary, remain this member’s favorite Cabinet players. The member fears more than anything a primary challenge from the right — and Tillerson has been sometimes characterized as in opposition to a “MAGA agenda” — but is prepared to put skin in the game to defend the secretary to skeptics.
In the meantime, Mattis, a Defense chief who has been given near-unprecedented deference from the Oval Office, remains the second most powerful man in the United States, claims a Pentagon source. “If not the first,” says the Congressman, in half-jest. Every time the member has been at the White House, Mattis has also been there.
Within reason, access is power with this president. CIA Director Mike Pompeo makes a point of coming over from Langley, Virginia most days to personally deliver the president his daily briefing. And his “eyes remain on the prize,” a person familiar with Pompeo’s thinking tells me: replacing Tillerson, even if it’s later rather than sooner.