The extraordinary spectacle of the secretary of state denying plans to resign was the latest rupture in an administration that has been consumed by palace intrigue from the start. Just last week, Tom Price resigned as secretary of health and human services after being publicly scolded by Mr. Trump for his use of chartered flights.
Mr. Trump has lost a string of top officials, including a chief of staff, a national security adviser, a chief strategist, a press secretary and two communications directors. He has fired the F.B.I. director, belittled his attorney general and publicly assailed the deputy attorney general.
Mr. Trump, speaking with reporters in Las Vegas, where he was visiting victims of this weekâs mass shooting, dismissed the report that Mr. Tillerson considered resignation. âIt was fake news,â he said. âItâs a totally phony story.â Asked about the secretary, Mr. Trump said, âTotal confidence in Rex. I have total confidence.â
At a briefing in Washington, Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, said Mr. Tillerson was not asked to speak to the media but chose to do so on his own. She said the secretary spoke with Mr. Trump after making his statement and later reported to her that âit was a good conversation.â
Asked why Mr. Tillerson did not deny using the word âmoron,â Ms. Nauert denied it for him. âThe secretary did not use that type of language to speak about the president of the United States,â she said. âHe does not use that language to speak about anyone.â Pressed, she said flatly, âHe did not say that.â
Even as Mr. Tillerson denied a rift on Wednesday, he alluded to significant differences over North Korea and Iran. He stressed the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the nuclear dispute with North Korea and associated himself with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who just a day earlier endorsed retaining the nuclear agreement with Iran that Mr. Trump has threatened to rip up. He praised Mr. Mattis as a âsecretary of defense who embraces diplomacyâ and noted that they speak nearly every day.
Mr. Tillerson said he had not spoken with Mr. Trump on Wednesday morning before making his statement but offered words of praise. âPresident Trumpâs âAmerica Firstâ agenda has given voice to millions who felt completely abandoned by the political status quo and who felt their interests came second to those of other countries,â he said. âPresident Trumpâs foreign policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country.â
Much attention has focused on Mr. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil with no prior government or diplomatic experience. He has bristled at White House aides over unfilled appointments, been publicly contradicted more than once and distanced himself from the presidentâs statements blaming âboth sidesâ for violence at a white supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Va.
At one point in June, the secretary of state was trying to mediate a dispute between Qatar and its Arab neighbors and called for a âcalm and thoughtful dialogue,â only to have the president less than an hour later lash out at Qatar as a financier of terrorism. Mr. Tillerson has cited that episode as the moment when he realized that he would not last long in the job, and that no one could, according to one person who spoke with him at the time.
Over the weekend, Mr. Tillerson told reporters traveling with him to China that he had been exploring the possibility of talks with North Korea through two or three channels. Mr. Trump was described by advisers as livid and publicly undercut the secretary of state on Twitter by telling him he was âwasting his time,â adding, âSave your energy, Rex.â
The tension grew on Wednesday morning with the NBC News article reporting that Mr. Tillerson was ready to resign over the summer. The article said that the secretary was particularly upset at Mr. Trumpâs politicized speech before the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Mr. Tillerson previously headed. He was in Texas at the time for his sonâs wedding and threatened not to return to Washington, NBC reported, citing three people with direct knowledge of the threat, although it did not name them.
In his statement to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Tillerson did not address whether the Boy Scouts speech had bothered him but denied contemplating resignation.
âThereâs never been a consideration in my mind to leave,â Mr. Tillerson said. âI serve at the appointment of the president and I am here for as long as the president feels I can be useful to achieving his objectives.â
Mr. Pence issued a statement through a spokesman praising Mr. Tillerson. âThe vice president can also confirm that, as the secretary of state asserted, at no time did he and the secretary discuss the prospect of resignation,â said Jarrod Agen, the vice presidentâs communications director. âAny reporting to the contrary is categorically false.â
Still, other Republicans acknowledged the tension inside the administration for Mr. Tillerson and other figures like Mr. Mattis and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff. âI think that he and Kelly and Mattis are working very well together collectively under very difficult circumstances â very difficult circumstances,â Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters, emphasizing the last phrase.
Asked if he thought others in the administration were undermining Mr. Tillersonâs authority, Mr. Corker said, âI donât think it â based on my observations, Iâm certain of it.â
Mr. Corker said he hoped Mr. Tillerson would stay, but a prominent former Republican official urged him to resign.
âRex Tillerson has been dealt a bad hand by the Potus & has played it badly,â Richard N. Haass, a State Department official for Republican presidents and now the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter, using the initials for president of the United States. âFor both reasons he cannot be effective SecState & should resign.â
The president, to some extent, views Mr. Tillerson, a stoic Texan known for his hardheaded negotiations with foreign leaders over petroleum deals, as another granite-jawed cabinet secretary who fits his requirement that top advisers look as if they came out of âcentral casting,â as he has put it.
But Mr. Tillerson had special appeal for the president. Mr. Trump takes as a point of personal pride having hired the one-time head of the worldâs largest corporation and pointedly reminded visitors of that fact often â and in the presence of a profoundly uncomfortable Mr. Tillerson, whom the president for months referred to as âMr. Exxon.â
The deliberate, slow-talking oil executive has little personal chemistry with the quick-talking, impulsive Mr. Trump, and has expressed his frustration at being repeatedly overruled on major foreign policy issues.
Mr. Tillerson has avoided expressing his pique to the president verbally. But aides and Trump associates who have been in the room with them said that Mr. Tillersonâs body language and terse expressions have left little doubt that he disapproves of Mr. Trumpâs approach.
Mr. Trump, they say, has noticed the way Mr. Tillerson slouches in his presence, particularly when he disagrees with a presidential decision, and he has a verbal tic that gets under the presidentâs skin. Mr. Tillerson, according to two former administration officials, often says, âItâs your deal,â to Mr. Trump when overruled on a policy decision.
The president has also remarked to aides that Mr. Tillerson seems less comfortable with the West Wing chain of command than Mr. Mattis, Mr. Kelly or Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Those three are career military men and careful to appear deferential to Mr. Trump, who is keenly attuned to perceived slights by subordinates.
Nonetheless, Mr. Tillerson has not expressed serious objections to attempts by Mr. Trump, spearheaded by the presidentâs ferociously antiglobalist former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, to drastically scale back the bureaucracy. The secretary has repeatedly told associates that he was flabbergasted by the Obama-era organization chart, particularly the proliferation of special envoys to deal with problems ranging from the Middle East to climate change.
Mr. Tillerson, however, has been frustrated with Washington in general, according to an associate familiar with his thinking. He retreats to Texas when he can and he has been surprised by how much Washington stymies tangible accomplishments. He has stayed on the job out of a sense of duty to the country, but he has never enjoyed much about the job, associates say.
His aides also have spent a substantial amount of time looking over their shoulders at Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, who is seen as a probable replacement if Mr. Tillerson leaves. R.C. Hammond, Mr. Tillersonâs spokesman, was quoted by NBC saying that Mr. Pence had asked Mr. Tillerson if Ms. Haley was helpful to the administration.
Mr. Hammond on Wednesday expressed regret for saying that. âI spoke out of line about conversations I wasnât privy to,â he wrote on Twitter. âI shouldâve given more complete info or none at all regarding the positive role Amb. Haley plays in the Admin.â
Mr. Penceâs spokesman rejected the report as well. âAny assertion that the vice president questioned Ambassador Nikki Haleyâs value to the Trump administration is also categorically false,â Mr. Agen said. âThe vice president has known Ambassador Nikki Haley for many years and holds her in the highest personal and professional regard.â
A contingent of White House aides has sought to undermine Mr. Tillerson for weeks, viewing him as a new target after Reince Priebus was dispatched as chief of staff. Within the West Wing, Mr. Tillerson has been seen as undercut by Jared Kushner, the presidentâs son-in-law and adviser, who has taken the lead on negotiating Middle East peace and served as the presidentâs intermediary with several foreign leaders.
âFirst of all, you have to put yourself in Tillersonâs position,â said Newt Gingrich, a former House speaker and an informal adviser to the White House. âHe was the head of one of the largest corporations in the world. He is now a subordinate. That is an enormous shift. Heâs really not a Washington guy, heâs a Texan. Thatâs an enormous shift.â Moreover, young White House aides âhave levels of authority that is infuriating,â Mr. Gingrich added.
âI think it would be really helpful for Tillerson to stay on,â Mr. Gingrich said, citing his relationships with Mr. Mattis and Mr. Kelly. âOn the other hand, Trump is aggressive guy and he can turn on a dime.â