Politics

Tillerson Doesn’t Deny Calling Trump a ‘Moron’

Oil exec-turned-top diplomat describes president as ’smart’

President DOnald Trump (second from right) watches as Vice President Mike Pence delivers a ceremonious oath of office to Secretary of State Tillerson on Feb. 1 in the Oval Office. Amid reports of tensions with Trump, Tillerson reaffirmed his loyalty Wednesday morning. (John T. Bennett/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson delivered a loyalty pledge to President Donald Trump Wednesday morning following a report that he considered quitting this summer and called the president a “moron” after a Pentagon meeting in July.

Tillerson lavished Trump with praise at several points during his brief remarks from the State Department, describing the president as “smart” and praising him for holding people accountable. The former ExxonMobil boss also credited Trump for his handling of North Korea. Tillerson denied ever considering stepping down — but did not directly deny calling Trump a moron.

NBC News reported that Tillerson long has been frustrated by the president, with his disgust reaching a boiling point after Trump talked politics and hinted at lewd tales from his past during a speech before thousands of Boy Scouts in West Virginia over the summer. The network alleged that Vice President Mike Pence was deployed to calm Tillerson down amid worries that such a high-profile departure would damage the president and his administration.

But when Tillerson emerged Wednesday in Foggy Bottom, he tried to knock down the report.

Pence never had to “persuade me to remain as secretary of State because I’ve never considered leaving this post,” the former oil executive said.

His “commitment” to Trump is, he said, “as strong” as the day he accepted an offer to become America’s top diplomat. Trump’s foreign policy goals and approach, Tillerson said, “break the mold” and are helping U.S. officials and allies find “new ways to govern.”

He criticized the sources quoted — on background, without allowing their names to be published — as merely looking to “sow dissension” within the Cabinet and “undermine” the 45th president’s agenda.

“I do not and I will not operate that way,” Tillerson said, adding moments later that such articles are a big reason why he doesn’t “understand” Washington.

Asked specifically about the article alleging he once called Trump a “moron,” Tillerson did not deny it. “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that,” he said.

Tillerson also denied that Trump ordered him to deliver the loyalty statement, saying: “I have not spoken to the president this morning.”

As Tillerson spoke, Trump was on Air Force One traveling to Las Vegas to meet with victims of the mass shooting there and first responders who were on the chaotic scene. But just minutes before Tillerson took to the podium, the president took to Twitter to lash out at NBC over the report.

On Saturday, amid reports Tillerson was opening direct talks with North Korea, Trump fired off several tweets indicating he had shut down his secretary of State’s efforts. Foreign policy experts said those tweets undermined Tillerson’s ability to do his job.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.