After President Donald Trump’s interview with Forbes magazine was posted Tuesday morning, there was one question on the minds of many in Washington: What’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s IQ?
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“It’s high,” his spokesperson Heather Nauert jokingly told reporters.
“Anybody who can put things together, you know, as an engineer — it’s high,” she added, before pivoting, with a smile, “Do you have a real question?”
The exchange came after Trump appeared to challenge his top diplomat to an IQ face-off.
“I think it’s fake news,” Trump told Forbes of a recent report that Tillerson called his boss a “moron.” “But if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win.”
Nauert dismissed the entire episode as a joke, as did the White House.
“The president is entitled to make jokes, it’s a heavy world, it’s a tough world, and the secretary is more than fine with that,” she said.
“He made a joke, nothing more than that,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said over at the White House.
But Trump was not joking when he said in an interview Saturday that he wanted Tillerson to be tougher — something Nauert pushed back on.
“Exactly what the president was referring to, I don’t know,” she said, “but I can tell you firsthand that the secretary can be very tough.”
Tillerson was at the White House for three meetings Tuesday, according to Nauert — one in the Situation Room with the national security team focused on North Korea; lunch with Defense Secretary James Mattis and Trump where they discussed Turkey and Iran; and a possible third one.
Despite recent reports of tension between the two men, Nauert described the meetings as “positive,” citing people from both the State Department and the White House in attendance. When asked whether Tillerson received assurances about his job, she pointed to Trump’s comments this morning that he has “complete confidence” in him.
“The president has a strong relationship with Secretary Tillerson. I think that was made clear last week after their conversations,” she added.
Tillerson and Trump have met twice since that report by NBC News was first published and the former Exxon CEO gave rare public remarks to express his loyalty to the president and deny that he has ever wanted to resign. The two met last Friday, according to a White House official, as well as a senior State Department official, who added the meeting was about a “development in the Middle East”; their second meeting was today.