As the tensions between President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson continue to gain traction in the media, Trump said during an interview with Forbes that he would like to “compare IQ tests” between himself and the secretary of state.
The comments were made in response to the reports that Tillerson referred to Trump as a “moron” and tried to resign in the summer.
“I think it’s fake news,” Trump said during the interview, referring to the “moron” comment, “but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later passed off the Trump “IQ tests” quote to Forbes as “a joke and nothing more than that.”
“The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent,” Sanders said in Tuesday afternoon’s news briefing. She went on to say that Trump has “100 percent confidence” in Tillerson, describing their lunch as “a great visit.”
“Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it sometime,” Sanders added.
Tensions were already high in the State Department before the feud between Tillerson and Trump became public. Many positions have remained unfilled within the department. The first sparks of tensions between Trump and Tillerson arose when Tillerson’s top choice for deputy, Elliott Abrams, was rejected by Trump.
It came out that Abrams, the former deputy national security adviser, had criticized Trump during the campaign. The position went unfilled for months until a deputy was named in May.
But the fears that many departments are severely undermanned within this administration are spreading. The president, for his part, thinks the vacancies are not a problem but in fact a benefit for the American people.
“I’m generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be—because you don’t need them,” Trump said in the Forbes interview. “I mean, you look at some of these agencies, how massive they are, and it’s totally unnecessary. They have hundreds of thousands of people.”
Many of the positions that have gone unfilled across the cabinet have already been said to have had deleterious effects on the American people. For instance, positions in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that are still vacant were said to have potentially harmed the relief effort during hurricanes Irma and Harvey. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—another department that has celebrated its lack of hires—has also received criticism for failing to fill all its vacancies, to the detriment of the American people.
If the Tillerson-Trump feud continues, whether behind closed doors or out in public, the result could be a far less effective State Department and therefore, a weaker position in diplomacy discussions.
“Inside Trump’s Head: An Exclusive Interview With the President, And The Single Theory That Explains Everything,” Forbes, October 10, 2017.
“Trump proposes ‘IQ tests’ faceoff with Tillerson after secretary of state calls him a ‘moron’,” The Washington Post, October 10, 2017.