Since former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was appointed as the nation’s top diplomat, rumors of tension between the secretary of state and the White House have made the news on a regular basis. These rumors were further solidified on Friday when CNN reported that Tillerson will not send any senior State Department officials to India with Ivanka Trump when she travels there for a major entrepreneurship conference this week.
This reported development comes mere days before Trump is set to attend the country’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit following an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The theme of this year’s conference, “Women First, Prosperity For All," is supporting female entrepreneurs.
A senior State Department official told CNN that no one higher than the deputy assistant secretary has been authorized to attend the conference, largely because of internal tensions between Tillerson and White House. The secretary of state is reportedly irked by administration officials who have inflated influence on the president’s agenda, particularly Ivanka Trump and her husband, and won't send a top official "because they don't want to bolster Ivanka," a source told CNN.
"Rex doesn't like the fact that he's supposed to be our nation's top diplomat, and Jared and now Ivanka have stepped all over Rex Tillerson for a long time," the official added. “He's not supporting Ivanka Trump."
Since she signed on to serve as a White House adviser to her father, the first daughter has occupied a prominent place on the global stage, accompanying the president on trips to countries such as Israel, Italy, and Saudi Arabia. She raised eyebrows when she sat in on a G20 meeting for her father in Hamburg, Germany, prompting critics to question why the president’s official duties were being relegated to his daughter.
Although it’s unclear how much work the first daughter is actually getting done in the White House, the fact that she is leading the U.S. delegation to this conference in India indicates she may wield more influence than many State Department officials in the administration. Since he took over as secretary of state, Tillerson’s tense relationship with the president and his administration has been no secret. Tillerson has reportedly struggled to contend with the president’s brash, undiplomatic approach to conducting foreign policy, clashing with Trump on matters concerning countries from North Korea to Afghanistan.
At the beginning of October, NBC News reported that the top diplomat had called Trump a “moron,” a charge that his spokesperson later denied — even as Tillerson himself didn't explicitly do so. Even so, the fact that Tillerson has decided not to send a senior delegation on Ivanka’s trip to India seems to indicate that something is amiss.
International politics professor Daniel Drezner noted on Twitter that the news was a reflection of how petty infighting within the administration has become, stating that "the dynamics of American foreign policy can best be explained by Mean Girls."
While Tillerson’s snubbing of Ivanka has been largely attributed to his beef with the White House, it’s no surprise that the secretary of state has not prioritized this trip. For months, the State Department has been gradually hollowing out — Tillerson vowed to cut the agency’s budget by 31 percent, and hopes to push out nearly 2,000 career diplomats by next year, according to a report published by the New York Times on Friday. Thousands of positions in the government sit vacant thanks to the president, and he dismissed concerns about the State Department vacancies at the beginning of the month, saying, "we don't need all the people that they want."
In the future, we may start seeing less senior State Department officials representing the United States on the world stage, as figures like the first daughter exercise their influence over President Trump.