Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be “taking a little time off,” Secretary of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday, insisting it was merely him taking some personal time and not a sign that another top official in Trump’s administration is eyeing the door.
Tillerson left D.C. to spend time at his home in Texas, a State Department spokesperson told VICE News.
The vacation was not announced ahead of time, and was made public only after a reporter asked Nauert why Tillerson’s schedule was blank.
The news follows a series of reports from CNN, Politico, BuzzFeed, Reuters, and The Hill, indicating Tillerson has become increasingly frustrated with the White House, almost to the point of resigning. CNN also reported Monday that Tillerson is unhappy with President Trump’s public bashing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the United States’ foreign policy towards Iran, and the delayed appointment of key State Department nominees.
Sources tell Politico that Tillerson feels like he is “not being allowed to do his job” and that he is “no longer wedded” to the idea of staying on for at least a year. He is “very upset at not having autonomy, independence and control over his own department and the ability to do the job the way the job … is traditionally done,” another source told Reuters.
As of yet, only 10 of the 128 positions in the State Department have been confirmed, which experts say is due in part to ideological differences between the agency and the White House, though Trump has publicly blamed the Democrats for the slow confirmation process.
At least one blowup was personal — in February, Trump overruled Tillerson on Elliott Abrams, Tillerson’s top choice for deputy secretary of state, after Trump learned Abrams had criticized him during the campaign. Tillerson’s choice for the United States’ top diplomat to Asia, Susan Thornton, was also denied, “due to concerns that her views were out of step with the president’s agenda,” BuzzFeed reported Monday.
And Tillerson has had arguments with at least two White House aides, Politico reports, and Trump and Tillerson also have publicly contradicted each other on several occasions — including during the Qatar crisis, when Trump sided with Saudi Arabia in its accusations against Qatar, even as Tillerson was attempting to diffuse the rift.
Still, Nauert denied rumors of Tillerson quitting during the press briefing Tuesday, saying that, “The secretary has been very clear he intends to stay here at the State Department.”
“We have a lot of work that is left to be done ahead of us. He recognizes that. He’s deeply engaged in that work,” Nauert added.
But Tillerson’s commitment to the gig was put into question early on in his tenure. The former Exxonmobil CEO even told a publication in March that he never wanted the Secretary of State job in the first place.
“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”
“I was supposed to retire in March, this month. I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids,” Tillerson added.
Though Tillerson’s State Department has been remarkably close-mouthed about his activities, recent reports indicate Tillerson has carried that resigned attitude with him to his new position — in March, he cut short a trip to South Korea citing “fatigue,” skipped an annual press conference on the State Department’s human rights report, and has reportedly isolated himself from dealing with anyone outside of two trusted aides who act as gatekeepers for his office.