Secretary of State Rex Tillerson defended his standing within the administration Sunday, saying President Trump's social-media pronouncements on major global issues did not undercut the nation's top diplomat.
"I'm not going to deal with that kind of petty stuff," Tillerson said on CNN's "State of the Union," rejecting a chance to address reports that he called Trump a "moron" during a meeting of national security officials. "I don't work that way."
Tillerson's appearances on the Sunday talk shows provided his most extensive comments since NBC News reported that the secretary of state made the "moron" comment in response to Trump's suggestion of a massive buildup in the nation's nuclear stockpile. That was followed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a close Tillerson ally, suggesting that Trump had "castrated" the secretary of state with tweets undermining his diplomatic missions to China to try to resolve a standoff with North Korea over its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
"I checked; I'm fully intact," Tillerson said, after being pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper about the castration remark.
Tillerson said that his relationship with the president, often described as strained, was just fine. "I call the president Mr. President," Tillerson said. "We have a very open exchange of views."
With Trump's national security team fanned out across the Sunday show lineups, the advisers tried to present a united front. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, deflected reports that she and Tillerson are butting heads amid suspicion that she will replace him at Foggy Bottom.
"That's ridiculous," she said on ABC's "This Week."
On NBC's "Meet the Press," she said that Tillerson and Trump have a good relationship. "I'm not going to get into the drama of the he-said-he-said situation. What I will tell you is what I have witnessed is the president and Secretary Tillerson work very well together," Haley said.
Tillerson said Trump has assembled an "unconventional team" of national security leaders, noting that he is an "unconventional" secretary of state as a former chief executive of ExxonMobil.
"This is an unconventional president. He uses unconventional communication tools; he uses unconventional motivational techniques to motivate change," Tillerson said, explaining Trump's social-media habits.
He ran into similar questions on CBS's "Face the Nation" but gave no sign of irritation or dismay. Tillerson said there is close coordination among the administration's national security agencies and pointed to what he called a productive relationship with China over North Korea policy as an example of how he and the White House work together.
He also put a positive gloss on Trump's unpredictable behavior.
Trump likes to "cause action" with unpredictable or bold statements, Tillerson said.