11 times Trump and Tillerson haven’t been on the same page

Tillerson and Trump in a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in October. The two did not see eye to eye on a number of issues, but Trump’s termination of Tillerson came as a surprise.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Tillerson and Trump in a meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in October. The two did not see eye to eye on a number of issues, but Trump’s termination of Tillerson came as a surprise.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was abruptly fired by President Trump on Tuesday, it was shocking but, at the same time, not unexpected. There have been plenty of differences between the two men during Tillerson’s tenure. Here are 11 ways they have not been on the same page.

1. Citing three officials familiar with the incident, NBC News reported in October that Tillerson had referred to Trump as a ‘‘moron’’ after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials. Asked if the report was true, Tillerson did not deny it. He said, “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.” A State Department spokeswoman later said he had denied saying it. Trump said the NBC story was “fake news.”

2. Tillerson distanced himself from Trump after Trump refused to denounce white nationalists in the wake of their rally in Charlottesvillle. After Trump asserted that ‘‘many sides’’ were to blame for the violence that left one counterprotester dead and others injured, Tillerson was asked whether he was ‘‘separating himself’’ from Trump’s remarks. Tillerson answered, ‘‘I’ve made my own comments as to our values. . . . We do not honor, nor do we promote or accept, hate speech in any form.” He also said Trump “speaks for himself.”


3. Tillerson, once the head of the Boy Scouts of America, was reportedly outraged when Trump turned a speech to the Boy Scouts in July into a political event. He nearly resigned.

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4. Tillerson told reporters traveling with him in Beijing in late September that he was seeking a diplomatic solution to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. “We are probing, so stay tuned,” he said. “We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout.” But Trump appeared to undermine him immediately, posting a tweet that said he was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump’s nickname for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

5. Tillerson appeared to be out of synch with Trump again last week when Trump announced his new plan to sit down with Kim. Earlier that same day, Tillerson had said, “‘We’re a long way from negotiations; we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it.’’

6. Tillerson was one of the strongest voices in the administration critical of Russia. He has said for months that Russia clearly interfered in the 2016 US election, while Trump has shied away from criticizing Russia. Tillerson as recently as Monday told reporters traveling with him that he was ‘‘very, very concerned’’ with Russia’s growing aggression.

7. Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in June that he still supported the Paris climate change agreement, despite Trump’s decision to withdraw from it.


8. Tillerson supported the Iran nuclear deal forged by former president Obama. In October, days after Trump threatened to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, Tillerson said the United States was trying to stay in the deal while seeking more from it. “When you look at the Iran deal,” Trump said Tuesday after firing Tillerson, “I think it’s terrible, I guess he thought it was OK. I wanted to either break it or do something and he felt a little bit differently. So we were not really thinking the same.” Mike Pompeo, who is replacing Tillerson, has been a harsh critic of the deal.

9. Tillerson was against the unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the embassy there.

10. During Trump’s trip to Asia in November, Tillerson visited the Vietnamese prison that once housed US Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who has been a frequent critic of the president. During the election, Trump, who did not serve in Vietnam, had mocked McCain, a Navy pilot who had been shot down. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

11. In a lighter moment that may have said everything about his tense tenure at the State Department, Tillerson, in a visit to Geneva, inspected a sculpture of two people huddled into a ball and joked, “Some days I feel like I need to do that — curl up in a ball.”

Material from the New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press was used in this report.