The White House announced Tuesday that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was out of a job, to be replaced immediately by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The move, which will also see Gina Haspel likely become the first female director of the intelligence agency, was heralded by the president as one that would put the State Department more closely in line with his vision for foreign policy.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted. “He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”
The president spoke to reporters on his way to California on Tuesday, shedding further light on his decision to make one of the biggest changes his administration has seen to date.
“Rex and I have been talking about this for a long time,” he said. “We got along actually quite well. But we disagreed on things. When you look at the Iran deal. I think it’s terrible. I guess he — it was O.K. I wanted to either break it or do something. And he felt a little bit differently.
“So we were not really thinking the same,” he continued. “With Mike, Mike Pompeo, we have a very similar thought process. I think it’s going to go very well. Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot. I really appreciate his commitment and his service. And I’ll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time.”
Iran, of course, was only one of many areas of disagreement between Tillerson and the president. While Tillerson shared Trump’s vision for a scaled-down State Department that functions more as an extension of the White House than its own separate entity, he was often at odds with Trump on specific foreign policy issues. The Iran deal certainly being one of them, but their disagreements also extended to North Korea, Russia, and even the events that unfolded in Charlottesville last summer. Not to mention, of course, the reports last year that Tillerson had referred to the president as a “f**king moron.”
If there is anything to be said about the timing of the switch, it could have something to do with Trump’s impending talks with Kim Jong Un as well as the administration’s decision to move forward with steel and aluminum tariffs. Trump is getting ready to go all-in on the economic nationalism he promised on the campaign trail; he clearly needs a secretary of state who is on board with the agenda.
If observers were not exactly shocked by the move, a statement from Steve Goldstein, the undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, indicates that Tillerson was not expecting to be given the boot.
“The Secretary had every intention of staying because of the critical progress made in national security,” Goldstein said. “He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and the foreign ministers he has worked with throughout the world.”
Did something suddenly happen? Hmm…