UN Reveals Images of a Haley-Tillerson Rivalry Both Deny Waging

  • Envoy Haley more visible than low-key Secretary Tillerson
  • She says she isn’t angling for job; he says it isn’t available

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It’s among the most persistent parlor games in Washington: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is said to be ready to bolt -- or be fired -- at any moment. And Nikki Haley, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, may already be angling to take his slot.

During a week in New York for the UN General Assembly, Tillerson said he has no intention of leaving his job and Haley said she doesn’t covet it. But their busy, mostly separate, schedules produced fresh speculation about their intentions. It also underscored the far-different styles of Haley, the ebullient former South Carolina governor, and Tillerson, the low-key former oil company CEO.

Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley.

Photographer: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images

“Haley certainly had a satisfying week, and she is now becoming one of the president’s main proxies” on both North Korea and Iran, said Richard Gowan, a UN expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Tillerson made relatively little impact at the UN, but nor did he make any major gaffes. He was in diplomatic-workhorse mode.”

Haley is a practiced communicator who maintains an active Twitter feed where she mixes stern messages to North Korea with pictures of her alongside President Donald Trump and occasional love notes to her husband. Tillerson is intensely private, with a wit so dry his humor is sometimes hard to discern. In early September, he quietly left Washington for a few days -- provoking a rumor he was fed up and quitting when he actually was attending a family event.

In On Meetings

Tillerson’s aides have scoffed at reports that Trump has lost confidence in him and note that the secretary of state was in on most of Trump’s meetings with world leaders in New York. But Haley had a higher public profile, sitting next to the president in his first appearance at a session promoting goals to reform the UN. He also handed her a new assignment publicly, telling African leaders in midweek that he was dispatching her to the continent “to discuss avenues of conflict and resolution and, most importantly, prevention.”

Haley considers herself a peer of Tillerson, not an underling, despite his higher rank in Trump’s cabinet and his status as the top U.S. diplomat. That was underscored earlier in September when she delivered a speech to the American Enterprise Institute laying out strategies for confronting Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations didn’t coordinate the speech with the State Department, and officials at the department were left bewildered because it didn’t represent the official State Department position, according to people familiar with the event who asked not to be identified describing the lack of communications. Haley’s spokesman said she had cleared it with the White House and through the National Security Council’s interagency process.

Separate Schedule

In New York, Haley kept her own schedule, unlike some of her predecessors as UN ambassador who spent most of General Assembly week shepherding the secretary of state to meetings.

On Thursday evening, Haley held forth alone before reporters in a news conference boasting of the Trump administration’s successes at the UN while Tillerson was tied down in a Security Council debate about nonproliferation. She went ahead despite a State Department note advising that she’d wait to speak until Tillerson had finished.

Haley shrugged off a reporter’s question about whether she was angling to replace Tillerson with people-will-talk nonchalance.

“There’s going to be chatter about things,” Haley said. “Ever since I was a legislator, people have talked about what I’m trying to do or what I’m supposed to do. What I’m trying to do is, do a good job.”

Pressed again about whether she wants Tillerson’s job, Haley said, “No, I do not.”

Tillerson, who seldom makes TV appearances, had the last word, at least for now, when he appeared Friday morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“I think we have a secretary of state currently, and I think he’s planning to hang around,” Tillerson said.

— With assistance by Jennifer Jacobs, and Margaret Talev

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