WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered up a notable response Sunday to a leading GOP senator's assertion that President Donald Trump was trying to "publicly castrate" the secretary by undercutting his diplomacy.
"I checked — I'm fully intact," Tillerson deadpanned on CNN.
The notion of Trump running roughshod over the nation's top diplomat is apparently a sensitive one inside the White House, with Tillerson and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley making the news talk show rounds Sunday to push back against reports of a deteriorating relationship.
Haley, appearing on ABC, was asked about reports she might be tapped to replace the former Exxon Mobil CEO as secretary of state. "That's ridiculous," she said.
Tillerson, however, passed up repeated chances to directly deny that he had called Trump a "moron."
"I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff," Tillerson said on CNN. "I don't work that way."
Two weeks ago, Trump went on Twitter to admonish Tillerson, then in the midst of delicate diplomatic outreach toward North Korea, not to "waste his time" pursuing any indirect channel to North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
Some Trump supporters painted his comment as a kind of "good cop-bad cop" play, but Sen. Bob Corker — the Tennessee Republican who a week ago referred to the White House as an "adult day care" and then used the castration metaphor in subsequent interviews — said no such strategy was at work.
Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Tillerson are close.
Tribune Washington bureau