‘Commander In Chaos’: Trump Sends Congress Scrambling After Firing Tillerson

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter

Reactions from Republicans and Democrats to President Donald Trump’s termination of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were strikingly different on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, falling either in support of the president or labeling it simply one more example of an administration in the throes of chaos.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said Tuesday that the ousting of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should be no surprise and that ongoing tensions between Tillerson and the president was an “untenable situation.”

“The tensions between the secretary of the state and the president have been evident for some time. I don’t think today’s announcement should have surprised anybody,” Cruz, a Republican, told reporters Tuesday. “It was not a long-term, tenable situation to have ongoing tension and conflicts between the senator and secretary of state.”

Trump abruptly announced on Twitter Tuesday morning that he is replacing Tillerson with current CIA Director Mark Pompeo, confirming months worths of speculation that Trump was considering Pompeo for position.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.

Republican senators largely voiced the same message as Cruz Tuesday, arguing the move isn’t as shocking as some are calling it.

GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee told reporters Tuesday that he’d hoped the president’s relationship with Tillerson had smoothed over, but the differences in working styles between the two individuals didn’t make for the most symbiotic relationship.

“I had felt, to a degree, there had been a reprieve in some kind in early December relative to how they (Trump and Tillerson) were working together. But, look, the secretary of state is the one position where you are constantly in president’s lane,” Corker told reporters. “If you think about it, under Obama, Secretary John Kerry and Obama were constantly in a different place on issues.”

Corker said it isn’t really a surprise that Tillerson and Trump butted heads, given Tillerson’s role as a former corporate executive operating in a more orderly environment than a White House that Corker once described as an “adult day care center.”

Corker, who serves as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, does not think Tillerson’s exit will hinder or derail the ongoing Iran Deal or Trump’s potential upcoming talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un.

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who worked with Pompeo in the House, said he is optimistic about Trump’s choice, especially given Pompeo’s history of being tough on Russia. Pompeo said during his confirmation hearing that there was no doubt Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

“I’m anxious to see if he sticks to the those views,” Flake said Tuesday.

Flake somewhat hit back against Trump’s methods for firing Tillerson.

“It is not a good sign when you are fired by Twitter. I mean, c’mon, we ought to have a better process … it is just not very respectful,” Flake said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Trump’s move to nominate Pompeo, calling the director the perfect choice to lead the nation through a series of diplomatic negotiations over the coming year.

“In selecting CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his nominee for Secretary of State, the president has called upon a brilliant, tough-minded leader to guide our diplomatic corps through challenging days ahead,” McConnell said in a statement. “I have every confidence in Mike. He has earned the trust of the career officers at the CIA, and I am certain he will be an excellent Secretary of State.”

As of early Tuesday afternoon, there is no set confirmation hearing and leadership remains unsure about how quickly they will get Pompeo through the confirmation process, only hearing the news hours before arriving at the Senate.

One strikingly common feature about Tuesday’s announcement is that both Republican and Democratic senators appeared to be completely blindsided by the move.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told reporters Tuesday he was unsure about the timing, but said he supported the presidents choice in Pompeo.

“I don’t know. I guess so, but I obviously just heard the news this morning. I’m going to be talking to the director here in a little awhile,” Cornyn told reporters as to the speed of the confirmation process. He told reporters he holds Pompeo in high regards but didn’t know about the president’s decision until he saw it on his email Tuesday morning.

Cornyn expressed some concern earlier Tuesday about increasing an already loaded Senate docket with the confirmation process, but later, along with McConnell, said leadership is seeking a “quick confirmation.”

Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, a Democrat, told The Daily Caller News Foundation he didn’t hear about the news of Tillerson’s termination until he turned on the radio this morning.

“One of the hardest things to do is find good people and hire them. The revolving door down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue continues to amaze me,” Carper said. “Maybe everyone saw this (firing Tillerson) as a pitch well telegraphed, but I did not.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois claimed he was unaware of the president’s decision until he saw Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning.

“Would anything surprise you with this president? The writing was on the wall a few weeks ago. His days were numbered. I think they (administration) were looking for some sort of a graceful exit, but he fell out of favor with the president months ago and he’s been on life support,” Durbin told reporters.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey did not seem shocked at how Trump fired Tillerson, calling the president the “commander in chaos.”

“President Donald Trump is the commander in chaos,” Menendez told reporters. “We have a state department thats been emaciated and a diplomacy that’s been undermined at a critical time in our history.”

Durbin said he is not yet a solid “no” on confirming Pompeo, but he needs to see how he answers questions regarding enhanced interrogation and torture.

Carper said Pompeo is not “entirely a blank slate,” but that he is more than willing to sit down with Pompeo to better understand him.

Menendez also claims he is open to seeing how Pompeo’s confirmation unfolds, but highlighted that secretary of state takes a very “different set of skills” than what is required of a CIA director.

“Director Pompeo, in the role that president has nominated him as the secretary of state, there are different sets of skills. Being the CIA director requires one set of skills, being the secretary of state requires diplomatic skills,” Menendez said, adding he will have to wait and see if Pompeo has what it takes.

This post has been updated to include comment from Sens. Flake, McConnell, and Carper. 

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