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Tillerson insists Trump hasn’t undercut him — especially there

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, with President

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, with President Donald Trump on Aug. 11, 2018 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The pair's strained relationship came under renewed focus in media interviews on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. Credit: AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Rex: Still here, all there

Donald Trump is open about not always seeing eye to eye with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. “We disagree on a couple of things, sometimes I’d like him to be a little bit tougher,” he said recently.

But Tillerson, appearing on Sunday talk shows, said he hasn’t been undercut by the president and certainly hasn’t suffered the unkindest undercut of all.

As for Sen. Bob Corker’s warning that belittling statements by Trump “publicly castrate” his chief diplomat, Tillerson said, “I checked — I’m fully intact.”

Trump, he said, is an “unconventional president” who “uses unconventional communication tools” and “unconventional motivational techniques.”

Also unconventional: The lingering question of whether the secretary of state called the president a “moron” in an outburst of frustration a few months ago.

Asked about it twice on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Tillerson said he was “not dignifying the question” by answering. (His spokeswoman has denied it.)

See Scott Eidler and Emily Ngo’s story for Newsday. For a video excerpt click here.

Lost Iran argument

Part of Tillerson’s mission on the Sunday talk shows was the selling of Trump’s decision to decertify the Iran nuclear agreement.

But Politico reports that Tillerson and other top officials had argued against Trump’s move. Trump decided to listen instead to UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who made the case that Trump could act on his distaste for the deal without foreclosing the chance to ultimately strengthen it.

Though Iran and the European participants in the agreement say they’re not interested in renegotiating, Haley said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the goal was to “make it better.”

Haley also said reports that she had a poor relationship with Tillerson are “so ridiculous.”

Time well spent?

Trump tweeted a few weeks back that Tillerson was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate with North Korea. But Tillerson said Sunday the president “made clear to me that he wants this solved diplomatically ... He is not seeking to go to war.”

The president’s threats about North Korea facing total destruction and warnings that “only one thing will work” with Kim Jong Un are meant to “motivate action,” Tillerson said, adding that “diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops.”

The take-away: Watching you

The House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigators are seeking information from Cambridge Analytica, the company part-owned by the billionaire Mercers of Long Island that has been deeply involved in analyzing and mining people’s data to influence election campaigns.

More broadly, the explosion of social media fuels unprecedented questions about what information is fair for governments and political operatives to use and for what purpose.

CA said it “is not under investigation, and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the company.” See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.

Pill pushers and point men 

Trump's pick to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy is a Pennsylvania Congressman who helped drug manufacturers set a high bar for law enforcement crackdowns on opioids, according to the Washington Post.

Rep. Tom Marino's alliance with the industry on Capitol Hill drew particular interest over the weekend just as Joseph Rannazzisi, a former high-ranking DEA agent, was featured in a "60 Minutes" broadcast talking about Congress frustrating his agency's efforts.  

Strained summit

Trump is meeting Monday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell over Congressional issues still outstanding, which includes just about everything. The president has blamed the Kentucky Republican for inaction, on health insurance in particular, as his political guru Steve Bannon declares war on the GOP majority.

Groping allegations still simmer

The Harvey Weinstein scandal is a reminder that Trump still faces a defamation suit by a former “Apprentice” contestant who accused him of groping.

Her lawyers subpoenaed the Trump campaign for any documents about her and at least nine other women who alleged groping, BuzzFeed reports.

One of Trump’s accusers said she thinks people may have taken the allegations against Weinstein more seriously because famous women were among those who went public with their stories about the film kingpin.

What else is happening:

  • Haley said she is “glad to be living in New York” because “I don’t want to be near the drama and ... the gossip” of Washington.
  • Trump’s decision to cut off Obamacare subsidies carries political risk for Republicans, The Associated Press reports. Almost 70% of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November.
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) says he plans to ask FCC commissioners to publicly affirm their support for the First Amendment amid Trump’s threats to challenge NBC’s broadcast licenses because of the network’s news coverage.
  • A CBS News Nation Tracker poll found 58 percent of Americans think the Trump/GOP tax overhaul plan would favor the rich, 18% believe they would favor the middle class and 19% feel the changes would treat all equally.
  • Another finding from the poll: 39% of Republicans feel their party’s congressional representatives “don’t like” the president and are actively trying to undermine him. Another 37 percent think congressional Republicans don’t like Trump “but pretend to” in hope of getting their agenda passed.
  • Porn mogul Larry Flynt took out a full-page ad in The Washington Post offering $10 million for information that would lead to Trump’s impeachment and removal from office.

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