Washington D.C., USA: President Donald Trump’s feud with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was renewed on Tuesday, after the US president said that the two leaders should compare IQ scores.
“I think it’s fake news,” Trump said, “but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
In an interview with Forbes published on Tuesday (Oct 10), Trump fired a shot at Tillerson over the “moron” revelation,widely reported by several other news organisations worldwide. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier had privately called Trump a “moron” and disparaged his grasp of foreign policy according to media reports.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later insisted that Trump’s comment was “a joke and nothing more than that.”
Regardless of whether Trump was trying to make a joke, his “IQ tests” challenge is the latest evidence of what White House officials have described as a breach of trust between the president and the secretary of state.
Although Trump has said publicly that he has confidence in Rex Tillerson, as he did on Tuesday, behind the scenes he has long been brooding about his job performance, according to administration officials and outside advisers.
President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to smooth over tensions in their relationship during a White House lunch after the president proposed an “IQ tests” face off with his top diplomat,
Trump met for lunch on Tuesday with Tillerson and Mattis in the president’s private dining room at the White House. Sanders characterised the lunch as “a great visit.”
Shortly before the lunch, a reporter asked Trump whether he had undercut Rex Tillerson with his comments to Forbes.
“No, I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” Trump said during a brief media appearance in the Oval Office, as he sat beside former secretary of state Henry Kissinger during a meeting to discuss foreign affairs.
When a reporter asked Trump whether he has confidence in Tillerson as his secretary of state, the president replied, “Yes.”
Over the weekend, reporters asked Trump about his relationship with Tillerson.”We have a very good relationship,” Trump said Saturday. “We disagree on a couple of things. Sometimes I’d like him to be a little bit tougher. But other than that, we have a very good relationship.”
But White House insiders reportedly say that Tillerson’s refusal to personally deny an NBC News report that he labeled Trump a “moron” after a July meeting had only deepened the rift.
Over at the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert declared when asked that Tillerson’s IQ was “high” but insisted that the top diplomat had not been offended.
“Speaking with some of our folks who were over there with the president, with the secretary and the president. The meetings were described as positive,” Nauert said.
Since the alleged insult was reported, White House chief of staff John Kelly has been struggling to keep a lid on the situation, and on renewed rumors of Tillerson’s departure.
But that effort that has been consistently thwarted by Trump’s tweets and barbed remarks.
Last week, before the report of the insult was published, Trump took to Twitter to accuse the former ExxonMobil CEO of “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with DPRK.
The rebuke revived rumors that Rex Tillerson is unhappy at his post, but he insists he has no intention of resigning.
In Washington, Rex Tillerson, along with Mattis, Kelly and chairman of the joint chiefs Joseph Dunford are increasingly seen as a buffer against Trump’s impulses.
Kelly has worked to control the flow of information across Trump’s desk and imposed a decision-making structure that was absent in the early days of the administration.
But for many in Washington, even former supporters from the president’s own party, he has not yet been successful.
“The White House has become an adult day care center,” Senator Bob Corker declared at the weekend, an astonishing public rebuke from a Republican who campaigned for Trump and chairs the Senate foreign relations committee.
And it could not come at a more sensitive time diplomatically.
Trump is poised to confront Iran by questioning a major nuclear deal later this week and appears set on stepping up his threats against nuclear-armed DPRK.
Tillerson will also play a major role in preparing Trump’s monster trip to Asia next month, that will take in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.