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Tillerson sacking shows Trump finding his feet in office

Sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shows US President is now more successful at setting tone and agenda

Mr Donald Trump is learning to work the presidency.

The current US President is like few - if any - other leaders in American history.

He reportedly shows little interest in reading briefing documents, spends much of his time on the golf course or watching cable television - all the while disagreeing with the Washington establishment on just about everything.

After 14 months in the Oval Office, however, it is hard to dispute that he is becoming more successful at marrying his idiosyncratic style with the levers of power to get his own way.

Tuesday's ousting of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson suggests Mr Trump's confidence is still growing - as is his ability to use the power of his office.

The two have clearly been at odds for some time, with Mr Tillerson failing to deny reports last year that he had called Mr Trump a "moron".

Mr Trump's announcement of his plan to replace Mr Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo comes days after his decision to tell a South Korean envoy that he was willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Whether Mr Trump is acting wisely is a matter of division and debate. On North Korea, many foreign policy experts say he is making a mistake by starting with a summit.

With tariffs, he essentially signalled a trade war with a tweet, again with little of the policy or diplomatic consultations that would normally precede such a step.

On gun control, the administration has ensured that Mr Trump's personal - if controversial - thoughts on arming teachers are a focus of the discussion, and perhaps new legislation.

His tax cuts are at the centre of US economic policy.

Immigration policy remains largely deadlocked, but Mr Trump is unquestionably setting the tone and agenda.

It is unclear how much success he will have pushing his views into law.

Even if he fails to get his way, most of these views can be expected to energise his political base ahead of the November mid-term elections - a significant bellwether for his prospects of re-election in 2020.

GETTING THERE

The administration has become better at managing the initially chaotic and sometimes vicious battles within it.

As late as last year, Mr Trump's Twitter feed and public pronouncements were a hodgepodge, some barely followed up, which often played badly in the media; his May 2017 appearance at a Nato summit in Europe was a particularly unsuccessful example.

More recently, however, he has used Twitter more strategically, often to issue surprise announcements or to shape the political battlefield on issues such as trade and taxes.

The administration has also become more disciplined at following such utterances through.

More broadly, though, this year gives the lie to any suggestion that the President is restrained by those around him.

The North Korea meeting is the latest in which Mr Trump has used the limited but real capabilities of his office to dictate policy, regardless of protocol and what others might think.

He is finding his feet and no doubt wondering where next to take them. - REUTERS

The writer is Reuters global affairs columnist.

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