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In the book "Fear" there is this quote when discussing the Iran deal:

“They are in violation,” Trump insisted, “and you should make the case that this agreement is done and finished.” He suggested they might consider reopening the terms of the deal. “And that maybe we’d be willing to renegotiate.”

“Mr. President,” Tillerson said in exasperation, “you have the authority. You’re the president. You just tell me what you want me to do. You call the shots. I’ll do what you say.” He was getting dangerously close to violating the protocols of dealing with a president.

What are these protocols that the writer is referring to and why did Tillerson come close to breaking them?

  • It's not terribly clear to me what Woodward means by that. Clearly not being at nearly constant loggerheads with the president is probably some kind of unwritten protocol. – Fizz Sep 19 '18 at 15:23
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    Excellent question, also because in the rest of the book staffers left and right are violating any protocol I could conceive of. The level of candor and disagreement some people display when dealing with Trump is surprising to me, you would think there would be rules for that. – Douwe Sep 19 '18 at 15:39
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    Note that there's a paragraph break in the book before (and after) the last sentence you quoted, a break that you have not reproduced here. Which kinda makes that sentence read like a conclusion to me of several prior points, although without elaboration (from Woodward), it's hard to tell. – Fizz Sep 19 '18 at 15:44
  • Since the President does not have dictatorial powers, there really isn't any protocol when dealing with Cabinet members who are advisors. The Cabinet are peers and other than Mr. President, don't need anything more – Frank Cedeno Sep 19 '18 at 20:51
  • I'm guessing that the "protocol" here is just politeness/deference. The President is a powerful person, and ought to be addressed respectfully. Exasperation is therefore inappropriate (as would be sarcasm, shouting, etc). But I have no clue if that's actually correct. – Bobson Sep 20 '18 at 20:12
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Protocols, seems to be the standards and norms of the office and how to address and work with each person in the West Wing, this was a tough one to chase down. But I did find a rare New York Time article that mentions President Trump changing protocol...

By then, the president, for whom chains of command and policy minutiae rarely meant much, was demanding that Mr. Priebus begin to put in effect a much more conventional White House protocol that had been taken for granted in previous administrations: From now on, Mr. Trump would be looped in on the drafting of executive orders much earlier in the process.

Another change will be a new set of checks on the previously unfettered power enjoyed by Mr. Bannon and the White House policy director, Stephen Miller, who oversees the implementation of the orders and who received the brunt of the internal and public criticism for the rollout of the travel ban.

So it appears to be some internal set of rules for how policy gets made, and not really law.

But if I were to wager a guess, it would be that there are certain ways in which staff addresses the president.

Here's a example from Huffpost on a meeting former president Obama and there is indeed a fair bit of protocol.

If you have the chance to meet President Obama, will you know what to say? If you want to send him a letter, do you know how to address the envelope? Here are some tips on how to behave if you’re ever lucky enough to meet the highest-ranking official in the United States.

• People who are seated should rise when the president enters the room.

The president should be addressed as President Obama or Mr. President. (One day in the future, when we have a female president, she will be addressed as Madame President).

• All U.S. presidents retain their title for life, so all former presidents are referred to as Mr. President or President [last name].

• A letter to the president should be addressed as follows:

The President

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20500

• The salutation of your letter should read: The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States, or President Barack Obama.

I would imagine, similar guidelines exist for staff and executive staff. I bolded one rule which I would wager is a MUST for any staffer, regardless of position (executive or not) that the must all follow.

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