By Max Greenwood - 08-10-17 16:13 PM EDT
The State Department pushed back on Thursday against White House deputy adviser Sebastian Gorka's assertion that it was "nonsensical" for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak on military matters.
State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters at a press briefing that, although Tillerson has not discussed military options against North Korea, he certainly has a say in the Trump administration's policies.
"He's a Cabinet secretary. He's fourth in line to the presidency," Nauert said. "He carries a big stick."
Nauert's rebuttal to Gorka came after the White House aide told BBC radio that Tillerson had stepped outside his purview when he said Wednesday that a conflict with North Korea was not imminent over the nation's nuclear weapons program.
"You should listen to the president; the idea that Secretary Tillerson is going to discuss military matters is simply nonsensical," Gorka said in the interview.
"It is the job of Secretary [James] Mattis, the secretary of Defense, to talk about the military options, and he has done so unequivocally. He said, 'Woe betide anyone who militarily challenges the United States,' and that is his portfolio. That is his mandate. Secretary Tillerson is the chief diplomat of the United States, and it is his portfolio to handle those issues."
Tillerson sought to reassure Americans Wednesday that they "should sleep well at night" despite heightening tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
President Trump has amped up his rhetoric toward Pyongyang in recent days, saying Tuesday that he would unleash "fire and fury" on the country if it continued to threaten the U.S. He doubled down on that notion Thursday, suggesting that his previous threat may not have been "tough enough."
North Korea has said it is planning an attack in waters near the U.S. territory of Guam and that a strategy should be in place by mid-August. That threat came amid new advancements in the country's nuclear and missile programs.