“I think it's fake news,” Trump said, “but if he did that, I guess we'll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Trump met for lunch Tuesday with Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in the president's private dining room at the White House. Shortly before the lunch, a reporter asked Trump whether he had undercut Tillerson with his comments to Forbes.
“No, I didn't undercut anybody. I don't believe in undercutting people,” Trump said during a brief media appearance in the Oval Office, as he sat beside former secretary of state Henry Kissinger during a meeting to discuss foreign affairs.
When a reporter asked Trump whether he has confidence in Tillerson as his secretary of state, the president replied, “Yes.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said that Trump's “IQ tests” comment to Forbes was “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 added that Trump has "100 percent confidence” in Tillerson, characterized their lunch as “a great visit” and admonished reporters for taking the president's comment so seriously. “Maybe you guys should get a sense of humor and try it sometime,” Sanders said.
Trump's “IQ tests” challenge is the latest evidence of what White House officials have described as a breach of trust between the president and the secretary of state.
Reporters asked Trump over the weekend about his relationship with Tillerson.
“We have a very good relationship,” Trump said Saturday. “We disagree on a couple of things. Sometimes I'd like him to be a little bit tougher. But other than that, we have a very good relationship.”
In the Forbes interview, for the magazine's cover story under the headline “Inside Trump's Head,” the president teases upcoming economic-development legislation “nobody knows about” that would penalize companies that move operations overseas, and offer incentives for those that stay in the United States.
Trump previewed what he called “an economic-development bill, which I think will be fantastic. Which nobody knows about. Which you are hearing about for the first time.” The president said the policy is “both a carrot and a stick.”
Trump also told Forbes that he has purposefully not filled many jobs throughout the federal government, including at the State Department, where many of the top positions remain vacant.
“I'm generally not going to make a lot of the appointments that would normally be — because you don't need them,” Trump said. “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.”