Sen. Chris Murphy, an outspoken critic of Tillerson, says Pompeo could be more of the same

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps away from the podium after speaking at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Trump fired Tillerson on Tuesday and said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him, in a major staff reshuffle just as Trump dives into high-stakes talks with North Korea. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson steps away from the podium after speaking at a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Tuesday, March 13, 2018. Trump fired Tillerson on Tuesday and said he would nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him, in a major staff reshuffle just as Trump dives into high-stakes talks with North Korea. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Asked whether he agrees with President Donald Trump's decision to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said it depends what happens next.

Trump has nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo to take Tillerson's spot as the top U.S. diplomat.

"I don't know that Pompeo is any less enthusiastic about gutting American diplomacy," Murphy said by phone Tuesday afternoon, just hours after Tillerson's firing was made public. "If Pompeo is the choice because he's going to more efficiently destroy the State Department, then this transition isn't going to be good news."

Trump announced Tillerson's firing Tuesday morning on Twitter, and talked to reporters about his decision, which he said he made by himself, several hours later as he was departing the White House for a trip to San Diego.

Trump said that while he got along with Tillerson, "It was a different mindset. It was a different thinking." He pointed to their differences over the handling of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump wanted to withdraw.

As for Pompeo, Trump said, "We're always on the same wave length."

Tillerson and Trump were frequently at odds during Tillerson's time as secretary of state, including over the Paris climate accord and, more recently, the administration's decision to go forward with talks with North Korea.

"That alone was weakening American power all over the world," said Murphy. "I don't agree with Trump's positioning on a lot of international issues, but I would rather have a secretary of state confirming the president's views rather than contradicting him. That may be a benefit of having Pompeo."

Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been an outspoken critic of Tillerson and what Murphy has described as Tillerson's do-more-with-less approach. In April of last year, Tillerson proposed cutting 2,300 jobs and his department's budget by 26 percent. The Trump administration has indicated it wants to focus resources on military power over diplomacy. Seven of the nine top positions at the department remain unfilled, according to Bloomberg.

Pompeo will need to be confirmed by the Senate. Murphy first wants to hear Pompeo's plan for the State Department before deciding whether to confirm him. He already plans to ask Pompeo what he thinks the State Department can do to combat Russian aggression.

"Tillerson clearly didn't believe the State Department could do much of anything about Russian aggression," Murphy said. "I don't know if that was the orders of the White House or his own independent analysis."

Murphy just returned from the German Marshall Fund's 2018 Brussels Forum, held last week in Belgium, where the most influential North American and European leaders talk about the pressing issues currently facing both sides of the Atlantic. He said there are usually several high-ranking U.S. officials in attendance. This year there was just one person there from the Trump administration, he said.

"The world is making plans without the United States and that accrues to our national security detriment," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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