WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested in an interview published Tuesday that he and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson should compare IQs to prove the president is intellectually superior, a comment the White House later said was a joke in light of reports that Tillerson had called him a “moron.”
The president, meanwhile, did not leave open for interpretation his continued hostility toward Sen. Bob Corker, tweeting an apparent shot at the Tennessee Republican’s height.
Corker has questioned Trump’s foreign policy prowess publicly while, according to NBC News, Tillerson did so in private.
Trump has criticized Tillerson’s diplomatic approach to confronting North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. He told reporters Saturday that he wished the secretary were a “little bit tougher.”
In response to the NBC News report that Tillerson also challenged the president’s intelligence and sought to resign, Trump told Forbes magazine: “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.”
Later Tuesday in the Oval Office, the president downplayed tensions by saying he had confidence in Tillerson and disputing that the IQ remark was a jab.
“No, I didn’t undercut anybody. I don’t believe in undercutting people,” the president said.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused reporters who asked about the IQ quip of being humorless. “The president certainly never implied that the secretary of state was not incredibly intelligent,” she said. “He made a joke, nothing more than that.”
Reporters at the State Department asked spokeswoman Heather Nauert about Tillerson’s IQ. “It’s high,” she responded.
Tuesday morning, Trump doubled down on his very public and contentious feud with Corker.
The president tweeted, “The Failing @nytimes set Liddle’ Bob Corker up by recording his conversation. Was made to sound a fool, and that’s what I am dealing with!” the president tweeted.
Corker, the retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told The New York Times he believed Trump is putting the country on the “path to World War III” and treats the office as his own reality show.
The Times shared a transcript and audio showing Corker had agreed to put the exchange on the record.
Huckabee Sanders said the senator was wrong on Trump’s progress internationally, saying the president has isolated North Korea further and beat back the Islamic State group.
“Senator Corker is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but he’s not entitled to his own facts,” she said.
Also in his morning tweetstorm, Trump pushed for tax law revisions to penalize the NFL over players’ anthem protests and promised executive action on health care.
“Since Congress can’t get its act together on HealthCare, I will be using the power of the pen to give great HealthCare to many people — FAST,” he posted, later telling reporters recipients would be able to cross state lines for care and “it will cost the United States nothing.”
Of football players kneeling during the national anthem, he tweeted: “Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country? Change tax law!”
The protesting players, who are predominantly black, say they are raising awareness to social and racial injustice.
The NFL gave up its federal tax-exempt status a few years ago and now files tax returns as a taxable entity, according to The Associated Press. So it’s unlikely that Trump’s proposal would change anything, the AP said.