Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to distance his department and the nation from Donald Trump's racism by saying that Trump "speaks for himself." But as Sen. Chris Murphy pointed out, Tillerson has no leg to stand on if he's trying to stand up to Trump.
When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed to repudiate Donald Trump’s racist remarks about the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, it was a surprising moment of potential conscience from within the cabinet.
Speaking to Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Tillerson said that, despite Trump’s comments, “we express America’s values from the State Department.” He added that he doesn’t “believe anyone doubts the American people’s values” around the world.
When Wallace asked him about Trump’s values, Tillerson’s response took many by surprise.
“The president speaks for himself,” he stated bluntly.
The next day, an aide to Tillerson reaffirmed that view in an interview with CNN, saying that “the president speaks for himself, because the Constitution speaks for the country.”
Which all sounds well and good, until you think about Tillerson’s actions as Secretary of State, rather than his words on TV.
As Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Tillerson’s claim to integrity regarding America’s values falls apart pretty quickly under further examination.
It may have been a “blow your socks off moment,” Murphy said, but it doesn’t mean he’s above criticism.
“Tillerson is throwing some stones from a glass house,” Murphy continued, because “at the very same time, he’s trying to scrub democracy promotion and human rights advancement from the mission of the Department of State.”
This was a ‘blow your socks off’ moment. That is Rex Tillerson very confidently separating himself from the president of the United States, with respect to the president’s statement about Charlottesville. I think there’s some members of this cabinet who are frankly thinking about their legacy.
But at the same time, let’s remember: Tillerson is throwing some stones from a glass house. When he’s talking about American values, it’s worth remembering that at the very same time, he is trying to scrub democracy promotion and human rights advancement from the mission of the Department of State. So, when you think about American values, trying to get more people access to democracy, trying to save people from terror and torture overseas has always been a pretty fundamental American value. And Rex Tillerson, as much as Donald Trump, has something to do with that being erased from our country’s mission statement.
Indeed, Tillerson has tried to erase those key elements of the State Department’s work. The Washington Post reported in early August that Tillerson “ordered his department to redefine its mission and issue a new statement of purpose to the world.”
And that new statement is lacking any mention at all of promoting democracy around the world.
As Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy under President George W. Bush, told the Post, “We used to want a just and democratic world, and now apparently we don’t.”
So while Tillerson seems to care enough about “America’s values” to distance himself and his department from Trump’s racism, apparently he doesn’t care quite enough to actually continue the work of enacting those values around the globe.