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Stubborn, reserved Tillerson a bad fit in chaotic Trump admin

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When President Donald Trump decided last year to hire Texas oilman Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, the Washington foreign policy establishment thought it knew what to expect.

After all, the then 64-year-old engineer had been chief executive of ExxonMobil, the US oil giant, and so close to Russia’s Vladimir Putin that he had received a medal of friendship.

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He was expected to share Trump’s affection for Moscow and hostility to the Paris climate change accord, and thought capable of cutting costs and streamlining his unwieldy department.

The perfect Trump man, in other words, a player from the world of business brought in to shake up or smash the Washington bureaucracy and the international order under an “America First” banner.

What Trump got, to his evident frustration, was a stubborn diplomat in a more orthodox conservative tradition, keen to reassure allies, work with the US military and hold Russia at arm’s length.

Tillerson was almost immediately drawn into conflict with the White House even as he attempted to staff his department.

When he tried to enlist Republican veterans of previous State Departments, the White House barred all those suspected of having opposed Trump during his seizure of the party.

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But when Tillerson sought to promote from inside the department among career officials whose work he respected, that too was vetoed for fear “holdovers” from Barack Obama’s administration would be disloyal.

Now, a year on, the man who managed the world’s biggest oil company has failed to staff his department, with more than 70 senior posts and ambassadorships unfilled.

Tillerson, an Eagle Scout and former national president of the Boy Scouts movement, had a very different personal and moral persona to that of his flamboyant and unrestrained boss.

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Last week, he described his motivation for joining public service when he could have retired with several hundred million dollars and rode the range on his beloved Texas ranch.

Before an audience at George Mason University, Tillerson described how when he was 18 he registered for the draft to fight in Vietnam but his number in the lottery system was 89 and the recruiters only got to 86.

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“And so I stayed in college, got a great education, got hired by a great company, had 41-and-a-half wonderful years,” he said.

“My father is a veteran, World War II, fought in the war in the Pacific. My uncle is a retired major in the Army, did three tours of duty in Vietnam,” he said.

“And as I reflected on things at that point, I said I hadn’t really done anything yet. It’s my time to serve, and that’s why I’m doing it.”

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But if his motives were admirable, his results were not what he hoped for.

State Department employees were initially relieved not to have been placed under an inexperienced nationalist from the wilder shores of Trump’s insurgent campaign, but were soon disappointed.

– ‘Hollowing out’ –

Tillerson spoke of respect and shared endeavor, but made it clear he intended to make good on the administration’s plan to cut 30 percent or more from the department’s budget.

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Even Republican lawmakers balked at such a hack and burn policy, and retiring diplomats fed a wave of stories lamenting a “hollowing out” of the prestigious agency.

But while Tillerson’s public championing of Trump’s “America First” agenda cost him support from his own staff, he never really built up a bond with the commander-in-chief himself.

Though never publicly disloyal, he made known his disapproval of Trump’s sympathy for racist extremists after a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia turned deadly.

And, surely most devastatingly for the thin-skinned Trump, Tillerson was reported to have referred to him as a “moron” after a national security meeting.

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Tillerson apologized, but never fully denied uttering the word.

The secretary rode out months of reports his job was on the line. These became so common they were filed under the title “Rexit Rumors” by a diplomatic press corps that Tillerson never deigned to court.

But the frustration was just under the surface.

When Tillerson told reporters in China last year he had opened covert diplomatic channels to North Korea, Trump tweeted that he was “wasting his time.”

In February, when the secretary was in Mexico to discuss cooperating in the war on drugs, Trump accused Latin American leaders of corruption and laxity.

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On that trip, an aide to Tillerson let slip that Trump’s comments were “not helpful” — and White House officials began stirring the Rexit rumors once again.


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New Hampshire Republican officials aren’t interested in attending Trump’s upcoming rally

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President Donald Trump held a campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that was supposed to be massive, but one of the main problems that came up for the team is that thousands and thousands of people signed up for tickets, who never attended. This time, they think they've figured it out, said the New York Times.

"Campaign officials believe they will be able to prevent the kind of ticket prank that helped turn Mr. Trump's rally last month," the report said, noting that the crowd was a "far smaller event than expected — but they still can't say for sure."

"Registering for a rally means you've RSVPed with a cellphone number, and we constantly weed out bogus numbers," campaign spokesman, Tim Murtaugh said. "These phony ticket requests never factor into our thinking. What makes this lame attempt at hacking our events even more foolish is the fact that every rally is general admission — entry is on a first-come-first-served basis, and prior registration is not required."

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Native Americans, Polynesians shared DNA 800 years ago

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Native Americans and Polynesians bridged vast expanses of open ocean around the year 1200 and mingled, leaving incontrovertible proof of their encounter in the DNA of present-day populations, scientists revealed Wednesday.

Whether peoples from what is today Colombia or Ecuador drifted thousands of kilometres to tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific, or whether seafaring Polynesians sailed upwind to South America and then back again is still unknown.

But what is certain, according to a study in Nature, is that the hook up took place hundreds of years before Europeans set foot in either region, and left individuals scattered across French Polynesia with signature traces of the New World in their DNA.

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Harvard, MIT sue Trump administration over revoking foreign student visas

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Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration on Wednesday, seeking to block a new rule that would bar foreign students from remaining in the United States if their universities move all courses online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The two universities filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boston asking for an emergency temporary restraining order on the new directive issued by the government on Monday.

"We will pursue this case vigorously so that our international students - and international students at institutions across the country - can continue their studies without the threat of deportation," Harvard President Lawrence Bacow wrote in a statement addressed to the Harvard community.

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