President Donald Trump’s decision to sack Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been met with mixed response in Washington, with Republicans largely supporting the President while Democrats characterise the move as a hasty and dangerous decision — though they plan on hearing from Mr Trump’s nominee during confirmation hearings before passing judgement on that front.
Republicans heaped praise on Mr Tillerson, and cheered Mr Trump’s decision to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, even though reports indicated that many members of the GOP were not told about Mr Trump’s plans beforehand.
“Mike Pompeo is an outstanding selection as our next Secretary of State… While it’s a loss for the CIA, Gina Haspel is also an excellent choice to become the new CIA director,” Sen Tom Cotton, a Republican who has seen a swift rise in prominence during Mr Trump’s presidency and was even once considered as a potential replacement for Mr Pompeo, said in a statement following the announcement.
“I look forward to supporting them both during the confirmation process and working with them in the years to come.”
Sen Bob Corker, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, thanked Mr Tillerson for “tireless service”, and said that he had spoken with Mr Pompeo Tuesday morning. He indicated that his committee will take up Mr Pompeo’s nomination at some point in April.
“I had a very good conversation with Director Pompeo this morning and look forward to meeting with him soon,” Mr Corker said in a statement. “As I shared with the President, the committee will consider his nomination as expeditiously as possible.”
Mr Corker’s counterpart in the House, Rep Ed Royce, hailed Mr Tillerson as a “thoughtful leader and business titan”, and thanked him for his service.
“Thanks to his diplomatic efforts, we have charted a new course to counter the full range of threats from Iran and apply maximum pressure on Kim Jong Un,” he said in a statement. “I wish Rex well and look forward to working with our next Secretary of State. There are many challenges ahead.”
Democrats, on the other hand, were critical of the timing of Mr Trump’s decision, which follows less than a week after the White House announced an unprecedented plan to have Mr Trump meet Mr Kim for negotiations in person.
Democrat Sen Bob Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, promised a rigorous confirmation hearing, while his House counterpart, Rep Eliot Engel, criticised Mr Trump for throwing the State Department into disarray.
“The timing of this move… couldn’t be worse. Less than a week after announcing a summit with Kim Jong Un — the sort of engagement that will require a diplomatic full-court press — the President has let the world know that he’s throwing an already hollowed-out State Department into further disarray with a transition at the top,” Mr Engel said in a statement. “However much I may have disagreed with Secretary Tillerson, to push him out at this moment sends a terrible message to friends and adversaries all over the world.”
Still, other Democrats expressed optimism that Mr Pompeo could be a good replacement who takes the threat of Russia — and its intervention in American elections — seriously. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schemer, for instance, said he hopes the incoming secretary of State will “turn over a new leaf” and toughen policies towards Russia.
But, Mr Schumer did not miss the opportunity to criticise the Trump administration’s frequent chaos — which fired at least two other people Tuesday in addition to Mr Tillerson.
“Instability of this administration in just about every area weakens America,” Mr Schumer said, pointing to the frequent firings and in-fighting reported about the administration.