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Report: White House considering major shake-up of Trump’s national security team

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson could be pushed out, and Sen. Tom Cotton could become CIA director.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) responds to a question from the press during a meeting with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani at the Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON        (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The White House is considering a major shakeup of President Donald Trump’s national security team in the coming weeks, according to a report by the New York Times’s Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman.

Administration officials are floating a plan in which Trump would push out Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replace him with Mike Pompeo, who is currently serving as CIA director. Then, he would fill the CIA job with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

Now, this may not have been finalized just yet. Baker and Haberman write that it is “not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump has given final approval to the plan,” but that Chief of Staff John Kelly has drawn it up and widely circulated it. The timeline for implementing it, they write, would be “around the end of the year or shortly afterward.”

Observers across the political and foreign policy spectrum tend to view Tillerson as a failure at the State Department. The former Exxon Mobil CEO has been widely criticized as a bizarrely disconnected manager who has failed to effectively govern the department.

Perhaps more damaging for his internal prospects, though, was a report in October that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” at one point in the summer — a report Tillerson has conspicuously never denied.

Pompeo, by contrast, is viewed as a trustworthy and effective loyalist by Trump and his team. Axios’s Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan reported last month that Pompeo’s stock was rising in the White House and that he was a leading contender to replace Tillerson.

Sen. Cotton, meanwhile, is a staunch conservative and ally to the president, best known for hawkishness on both foreign policy and immigration issues. He’s a 40-year-old Army veteran who was first elected to the Senate in 2014, and has been viewed as a rising star in the GOP.

If Cotton is nominated and confirmed to a Trump administration post, a temporary replacement for him in the Senate would be appointed by Arkansas’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, before a likely special election to fill the rest of his term later in 2018.

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