U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said had never considered resigning from the Trump administration as he dodged a question on whether he described the President as a “moron”.
In an extraordinary press conference called seemingly to underline his faith in Donald Trump, Tillerson was pressed on an NBC report claiming he used the derogatory word as he apparently openly criticised the President at a Pentagon meeting.
When asked about the incident, Tillerson did not directly deny that it had occurred, saying: “I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that.”
“I have never considered leaving this post,” Tillerson said at the State Department. “I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.”
Tillerson spoke after NBC News reported that Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials intervened to persuade him not to resign during the summer as tensions rose between Trump and his top diplomat.
Trump appeared to undercut Tillerson over the weekend when he tweeted that he told Tillerson that he was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
Some were not convinced about the authenticity of his remarks.
And a former Barack Obama aide was stunned by the premise of the press conference.
Some suggested the press conference was aimed at one man.
And the President quickly waded in, though many pointed out he did not deny using the word.
Tillerson also reportedly threatened not to return to Washington in July, according to NBC.
He was in his home state of Texas for his son’s wedding when Trump delivered a widely condemned, highly politicised speech to the Boy Scouts of America. Tillerson was formerly the organisation’s national president.
White House chief of staff John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis apparently stepped in to “beg him to stay”, according to the report. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at the time that Tillerson was merely “taking a little time off”.
Vice President Mike Pence also got involved, officials added, offering Tillerson a “pep talk” over breakfast and encouraging him to find ways to smooth over the relationship with Trump. He suggested that Tillerson adopt a more conciliatory approach in public settings, and save his differences for private meetings.
MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle, one of the reporters who worked on the story, defended the reporting and apparently suggested that Tillerson went even further.
Speculation has swirled for months about how long Tillerson will remain secretary of state. The former Exxon Mobil CEO said he didn’t want the job, but his wife told him it was something he had to do.
Trump has publicly contradicted Tillerson’s statements about U.S. foreign policy on several occasions. Tillerson traveled regularly to the Middle East to mediate following the Gulf states’ blockade on Qatar. On the day that he called for easing the blockade, Trump made a speech arguing that it was “hard but necessary” and lambasted Qatar ― one of America’s key Middle Eastern allies ― for funding terrorism.