Political world reacts to sudden ousting of Rex Tillerson

The political world was left stunned Tuesday after President Trump announced his ousting of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State through a social media post. The president later told reporters at the White House shortly before leaving for California that he thinks Tillerson, whom he called “a good man,” will be “much happier now.”

Mr. Trump announced that he was nominating current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to become the next Secretary of State, a role that requires confirmation by the Senate. Republicans praised the selection, while Democrats were more skeptical of Pompeo. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hailed Tillerson’s “unique talents” and his handling of challenges like terrorism, North Korea’s missile program and the ongoing crisis in Syria. 

He added in a statement, “Rex took the depth of knowledge and experience formed of decades as one of America’s leading business executives and adapted it to the world of diplomacy, quickly learning the details and national security imperatives he pursued as Secretary of State. Our national security was enhanced through his service and I wish him well in the future.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Roye, R-California, thanked Tillerson for serving the country “with great energy and determination.” He said Tillerson had charted “a new course to counter the full range of threats from Iran and apply maximum pressure on Kim Jong Un.”

Royce added, however, “there are many serious challenges ahead.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted her congratulations to her “friend” Mike Pompeo, calling the move a “great decision by the president.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in a statement that he “very much” appreciated Tillerson’s service, noting that the outgoing secretary had “worked tirelessly on behalf of President Trump.”

Graham added that he “cannot think of a better choice” than Pompeo to replace Tillerson, saying his relationships with world leaders and with Mr. Trump will “empower him throughout his tenure as Secretary of State.” 

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, echoed Graham, calling Pompeo an “outstanding selection as our next Secretary of State.”

“Mike’s deep understanding of world affairs, his clear-eyed view of the threats to our national security, and his key relationships with world leaders make him an excellent choice to be our top diplomat,” Cotton added.

Meanwhile, Senate Foreign Relations Commitee chair Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that he was “surprised” by the firing and noted that “I don’t know what has happened” between the Tillerson and Mr. Trump. He said he spoke with Tillerson on Thursday night and the president on Friday night.

“You know, there’s been tensions we know that. At the same time, it seemed to me they were having a little bit of a reprieve, seemed like things were going a lot better since the beginning of December. That they had learned to work together a little bit better I don’t know what precipitated what happened,” said Corker. 

Corker noted in a statement that his committee expects to hold a hearing on Pompeo’s nomination in April, and that he was previously confirmed to head the CIA in a 66-32 vote. 

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats were swift in condemning the president’s sudden staff change. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that Tillerson’s firing set a “profoundly disturbing precedent in which standing up for our allies against Russian aggression is grounds for a humiliating dismissal.”

She added, “Whenever Tillerson’s successor goes into meetings with foreign leaders, his credibility will be diminished as someone who could be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, shared Pelosi’s concerns, saying that Mr. Trump has “demostrated yet again that he is the Commander-in-Chaos.”

“The State Department is in disarray because of President Trump and Secretary Tillerson’s misguided efforts to reform a Department they fundamentally do not understand,” he added. 

Menendez said that while Pompeo has served the country in multiple capacities, “I remain convinced that the best person to serve as the nation’s top diplomat must be someone who can rise above partisanship, and commit to promoting core American interests, including values-driven diplomacy.”

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, said Tillerson was a “poor” Secretary of State “because he was systematically and intentionally weakening American diplomacy.” However, Murphy also said “we should all be alarmed by his ouster.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said in a statement there now appears to be a “pattern” where Mr. Trump dismisses those who disagree with him. 

“I regret to say this, but it appears any number of things can put you on the wrong side of President Trump, who appears to have very little patience with anyone who has a different point of view,” Feinstein said.

Referring to Pompeo, Feinstein said the “CIA has little to do with diplomacy.” She added, “I believe any Secretary of State requires patience, diligence and above all knowledge and skill. This isn’t a role you can learn while on the job.”

CBS News’ Emily Tillett and Alan He contributed to this report. 

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