If he becomes U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo would have three assets Rex Tillerson did not: experience in government, the confidence of President Donald Trump, and a defter touch with Congress and the bureaucracy.
But he still would suffer from problems that have afflicted Tillerson, chief among them a boss who has shown little regard for diplomacy and no qualms about undermining his secretary of state with tweets, current and former U.S. officials said.
News media reports, first published by the New York Times, that Trump has a plan to replace his embattled secretary of state with Pompeo, a former U.S. congressman who now heads the Central Intelligence Agency, drew mixed reviews from serving U.S. officials.
Some argued that things at the State Department can hardly get worse than they have been under Tillerson, whose 10-month reign has been marked by an exodus of top diplomats, deep dismay at planned 30 percent budget cuts, and conflicts with Trump.
“Anybody could play the hand he’s been dealt better than Tillerson,” said one U.S. official on condition of anonymity, saying things can only get better.
But others argued that any new secretary of state would face the same obstacles as Tillerson, who was undercut this year when Trump told his chief diplomat to stop “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea.
“This is a hellish environment for a secretary of state,” said one State Department official on condition of anonymity.
It was not clear whether Trump plans to throw Tillerson, who in October reportedly called the president a “moron,” overboard. Tillerson has not directly addressed whether he made the comment, though his spokeswoman denied it.
Asked on Thursday if he wanted Tillerson to stay, Trump sidestepped the question saying: “He’s here. Rex is here.”
“There are no personnel announcements at this time,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders later said in a statement that left Tillerson twisting in the wind.
Trump was alienated by the reported “moron” comment and Tillerson positions that differ from Trump’s on North Korea and the Gulf standoff between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, said another senior official.
Tillerson has embittered many in the State Department by embracing the planned budget cut, failing to get top officials into key diplomatic jobs, relying on a handful of aides and keeping his distance from career diplomats.
If Trump went with Pompeo, he would tap a former Army armor officer and Harvard Law School graduate who was in his fourth term representing a Kansas district in Congress when he was chosen to lead the CIA, where officials say he has enjoyed a less hostile relationship with career spies than Tillerson has had with career diplomats.
While some intelligence officers say Pompeo tends to tell the president what he wants to hear rather than giving him their assessments, others say they have been impressed by his intellect, his willingness to listen and his advocacy of more robust covert operations.
Current and former officials said Pompeo was likely to get along better with Congress and with the White House, not least because of his conservative bent.
However, they said Pompeo would need to resist the planned budget cuts and find a way to grapple with Trump’s tweets.
“If the president undercuts what he is trying to achieve diplomatically, convinces people that whatever you agree to with the secretary of state will be overturned by the president … then he is basically neutered,” said Richard Boucher, a former top U.S. diplomat who now teaches at Brown University.
“So the question is not whether Pompeo can do the job but whether the president is going to let Pompeo do the job.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by John Walcott and Jonathan Oatis)
Here are 3 winners and 3 losers from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the other leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Wednesday night in the fieriest evening of the race so far.
His presence on the stage drew fire from the other candidates, but it also seemed to change the overall tone of the debate, with more attacks, counter-attacks, and passion than was generally seen earlier in the campaign.
Here’s a (necessarily subjective!) list of the winners and losers from the fray:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — Warren hit her stride right as the debate started by attacking Bloomberg for his record on the mistreatment of women, racist policies, and his tax returns. She repeatedly came back to skewer the former mayor, making herself the biggest and most notable presence in the debate. But importantly, she also continuously brought the discussion back to the issues she cares about — like expanding health care, environmental justice, and consumer protection — while getting in digs at the other candidates on the stage.
Michael Bloomberg ‘lost everything’ in Las Vegas: MSNBC analyst
Senior editor for "The Root," Jason Johnson, concluded that the biggest loser of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday was Michael Bloomberg, but not merely because of his debate performance.
"The big new name was going to be Michael Bloomberg," he said. "This was probably the most expensive night in Vegas I've ever seen. He lost everything. This guy has spent $320 million. He had the opportunity to stand on stage, and appear to be an equal, and he looked bored. He looked disenchanted. He stumbled over obvious questions that anybody would have anticipated about sexual harassment and stop and frisk. I thought it was a bad night for him."
Pro-immigration protesters interrupt Joe Biden’s closing statement at debate
Former Vice President Joe Biden's closing statement was interrupted by protesters at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.
As Biden began his remarks, demonstrators began shouting about the Obama administration's record on deportations.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020