President Donald Trump was making “a joke” when he challenged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to an IQ test in an interview with Forbes, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday afternoon.
“The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent. He made a joke, nothing more than that,” Sanders said. “He has full confidence in the secretary of state. They had a great visit earlier today. And they are working hand in hand to move the president’s agenda forward.”
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Trump told Forbes in his interview that he did not believe Tillerson had called him a “moron,” which NBC News reported he had, but that if he did, “we’ll have to compare IQ tests.”
“I think it’s fake news, but if he did that, I guess we’ll have to compare IQ tests. And I can tell you who is going to win,” Trump said.
Citing multiple unnamed sources, NBC News reported last week that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” after a meeting with members of the president’s national security team last summer and had come close to resigning over tensions with the president. Tillerson quickly held a news conference to deny that he had ever considered resigning but did not outright deny ever calling the president a “moron.” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later said Tillerson does not use such language.
While the two men have publicly professed a positive relationship with one another, Trump and Tillerson have appeared to clash at times, most recently on the issue of North Korea. Tillerson said last month that the U.S. is in communication with the regime of Kim Jong Un, which has ratcheted up its nuclear missile program in recent months. Trump responded to his top diplomat’s revelation a day later, writing on Twitter that “I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man.”
The online comment seemed to undercut Tillerson, but Trump defended it in his interview with Forbes, reiterating that the secretary of state “was wasting his time.”
“I’m not undermining,” the president said. “I think I’m actually strengthening authority.”
During a brief exchange with reporters ahead of a meeting with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Trump insisted: “I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people.” He also said he still has confidence in Tillerson as secretary of state.