WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted Wednesday that he is not planning to quit, rebutting persistent reports of policy disputes and personal clashes with the White House.
"I have never considered leaving this post," Tillerson said at an extraordinary and hastily called news conference at the State Department.
Tillerson, 65, did not directly respond to an NBC News report earlier Wednesday that he had referred to President Trump as a "moron."
"I'm not going to deal with petty stuff like that," Tillerson said, adding that he does not understand what he called a Washington impulse to "sow dissension" and undermine the administration's work.
He called Trump "smart" and committed to American security and the accountability of those around him.
Trump responded quickly on Twitter after Tillerson's appearance: "The NBCNews story has just been totally refuted by Sec. Tillerson and VP Pence. It is .FakeNews. They should issue an apology to AMERICA!"
In Las Vegas, after visiting a hospital, Trump told reporters he has "total confidence in Rex. I have total confidence."
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tillerson and Trump spoke on the phone immediately after Tillerson spoke to reporters. She characterized the conversation as "good," and said, "They are all good." She said Tillerson intends to stay on the job.
"The secretary never considered resigning from his post," she said, "and for those who want him to do so, go ahead and keep pushing, because that will only strengthen his resolve."
Nauert also flatly denied that Tillerson had ever called Trump a "moron." She said Tillerson did not apologize, and one was not necessary.
"The secretary does not use that type of language," she said. "The secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States. The secretary does not use that language to speak about anyone. He did not say that."
Tillerson's public remarks came after months of disagreements between Tillerson and the White House over staffing and administrative matters at the State Department and a disconnect over what Trump saw as Tillerson's conventional approach to policy matters.
Over the weekend, Trump contradicted Tillerson on diplomatic relations with North Korea and its leader. Trump tweeted that the secretary of state was "wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man" — his nickname for North Korea's Kim Jong Un.
The former ExxonMobil chief executive's eight-month-long State Department tenure has been marked by what people close to the situation describe as tension over what Tillerson saw as Trump's impulse to cut him off at the knees on policy initiatives and what the White House increasingly saw as Tillerson's tendency to freelance.
The NBC News report cited Tillerson's growing isolation from the administration and his personal anger at Trump.