Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to leave the Trump administration in January, sources tell Fox News, amid discussion of potentially tapping CIA Director Mike Pompeo as a replacement.
The discussions come amid reports of growing tension between President Trump and the nation’s top diplomat.
Fox News is told the most likely succession plan would involve moving Pompeo to the State Department and nominating Arkansas GOP Sen. Tom Cotton to lead the CIA.
The New York Timesalso reported that the White House has developed such a plan.
Asked for comment, Cotton’s communications director, Caroline Tabler, told Fox News on Thursday that the senator’s “focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”
Another potential, albeit less-likely, scenario would move U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley to the State Department. Despite talk of National Security Council official Dina Powell potentially transitioning to Haley’s post, Fox News has learned Powell will not be heading to the U.N.
However, the Trump administration publicly pushed back Thursday when asked about a possible Tillerson exit.
“As we’ve said many times before, as many of you love to write these types of stories, when the president loses confidence in someone, they will not serve in the capacity that they’re in,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at the press briefing Thursday. “When the president loses confidence in somebody, they will no longer be here.”
Sanders pointed to the president’s on-the-record comments in the Oval Office Thursday during his meeting with Crown Prince of Bahrain Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa. Trump was asked by reporters whether Tillerson would leave his post.
“He’s here,” Trump said. “Rex is here.”
When asked to comment on the reports, Cotton told Fox News’ “Special Report with Bret Baier” that he was “proud to be representing the people of Arkansas in the Senate.”
When host Bret Baier asked Cotton if he would like to be CIA director, the senator repeated, “I’m very proud to be representing the people of Arkansas.”
The secretary of state also was slated for multiple meetings at the White House Thursday, which he attended as planned.
State Department Press Secretary Heather Nauert also fielded questions about Tillerson’s future, and cited assurances from the White House.
“He remains the secretary of state and as long as he serves at the pleasure of the president, he will continue to do that job,” Nauert said. “He’s heard these kinds of stories before, and he’s just going about his business.”
Nauert told reporters that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Tillerson early Thursday when reports first broke, to assure him the “rumors are not true.”
“We have no comment,” a CIA spokesperson told Fox News on Thursday, when asked about the discussions.
Tillerson’s exit has been long rumored. Just last month, NBC News reported that Tillerson considered resigning over the summer amid disagreements with the White House, and even reportedly called the president a “moron” after a meeting with Cabinet officials.
Tillerson pushed back on the report, insisting there had “never been a consideration in my mind” to resign.
Tillerson also raised eyebrows in August, following the president’s response to the attacks in Charlottesville, Va. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” in August, host Chris Wallace pointedly asked Tillerson about the president’s values.
“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” Tillerson curtly replied.
The State Department did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on Thursday.
Trump, on the other hand, has largely been mum on his relationship with the former Exxon CEO and his performance as secretary of state — while seemingly applying social media pressure on the diplomat to be tougher on the international stage.
Trump tweeted last month that Tillerson was “wasting his time” with the diplomatic campaign to push North Korea toward denuclearization.
“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”
Pompeo is seemingly more in line with Trump on North Korea. In August, the CIA director praised Trump for his tough rhetoric toward the rogue regime and for “uniting the world” in trying to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.
“The president made clear to the North Korea regime how America will respond if actions are taken,” Pompeo said on “Fox News Sunday” in August.
Politico reported over the summer that Pompeo spent a considerable amount of time at the White House, even setting up a temporary office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across the street. The report suggested Pompeo made “almost-daily” White House appearances.
Fox News’ John Roberts and Samuel Chamberlain contributed to this report.