Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is rumored to be on his way out the door. His boss, President Donald Trump, publicly contradicts him at every turn. Foreign governments basically ignore Tillerson, and large numbers of American diplomats are quitting to avoid working for him.
All of which brings us to Tillerson’s latest indignity, which took place Monday during a joint appearance at the State Department with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. During a brief session with the media, a reporter directed a question at Tillerson with a polite “Bonjour, Monsieur Secretary.”
Here’s what happened next:
QUESTION: Bonjour, Monsieur Secretary. Secretary Tillerson, have you already submitted a letter of resignation with an effective date in January?
SECRETARY TILLERSON: That’s ridiculous.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY TILLERSON: It’s a ridiculous question.
Tillerson’s problem is that it wasn’t a ridiculous question. In Washington and foreign capitals around the world, Tillerson is seen as a dead man walking, one who doesn’t speak for Trump and doesn’t have the president’s trust and backing. The reporter was right, in other words, to frame her question about Tillerson’s departure as a seeming inevitability.
Rex Tillerson’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad time as secretary of state
The Tillerson death watch has been going on for months (something we’ve talked about repeatedly on our podcast, Worldly). Trump and Tillerson are known to disagree sharply over issues ranging from how to handle the standoff with North Korea to the future of the Iran nuclear deal. The secretary of state’s job security wasn’t helped by reports that he called Trump a “fucking moron” in front of other top officials.
But alarm bells didn’t really start blaring until late last month, when the New York Times reported that the White House was planning to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo after less than a year as America’s top diplomat.
CNN followed with an article that said the earlier leak was part of a White House effort to humiliate Tillerson. An unnamed official told the news network that the administration wanted to release the plan to replace Tillerson with Pompeo and then "wait for him to punch out."
Tillerson has refused to quit, and seems to be basically daring Trump to fire him. That will probably come sooner rather than later. Until it does, the reporter who drew Tillerson’s ire Monday won’t be the last to quiz him about his job security.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the nationality of the reporter who posed the question to Tillerson. The journalist was American, not French.