Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a rare press conference Wednesday morning to convey a simple, if not entirely persuasive, message: that he won’t be quitting his job despite mounting evidence of personal and private disagreements with President Donald Trump.
Tillerson’s comments came after NBC News reported the same morning that Tillerson considered resigning this past summer after Trump gave a highly politicized July 24 speech to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson used to lead. The story claimed that Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and even Chief of Staff John Kelly worked hard, and eventually succeeded, in persuading Tillerson to stay.
The NBC report also indicated that Tillerson’s view of the president he serves isn’t, to put it mildly, particularly high. It said Tillerson called Trump a “moron” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with top national security officials and Cabinet members.
In his press conference Wednesday, Tillerson insisted that he’d never considered leaving the administration, and instead went out of his way to lavish praise on Trump.
“The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state, because I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson said. “There's never been a consideration in my mind to leave. I serve at the appointment of the president, and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.”
Trump, for his part, was quick to use Tillerson’s denial to attack the NBC report:
Tillerson didn’t deny calling Trump a moron
Tillerson’s denial wasn’t as complete as Trump suggests. Notably, the secretary of state didn’t deny calling the president a moron. Instead, he questioned why people in Washington care about that “petty stuff.”
“I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about the purported insult. “This is what I don't understand about Washington. Again, I'm not from this place. But the places I come from, we don't deal with that kind of petty nonsense.”
It’s worth noting that before joining the administration, Tillerson ran Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest companies. He was surely aware of how even the smallest comments by leaders — especially senior leaders of the world’s most powerful nations— can become news. In this case, the secretary of state insulting the president is no small thing.
NBC, meanwhile, isn’t simply standing by its initial report. Shortly after Trump’s tweet, Stephanie Ruhle, one of the reporters behind the initial story, said her source said Tillerson had actually gone further and called Trump a “fucking moron.”