WASHINGTON — The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, perhaps within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday.
Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced.
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump had given final approval to the plan developed by John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, but the president has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department. Mr. Tillerson was at the White House on Thursday twice for meetings, but neither the president nor his team gave a public reaffirmation of his position in the administration.
As he hosted the visiting crown prince of Bahrain, Mr. Trump was asked by reporters if he wanted Mr. Tillerson to stay on the job. “He’s here,” Mr. Trump said simply. “Rex is here.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later issued a statement saying that “there are no personnel announcements at this time,” but she did not deny that there was a transition plan in mind.
“When the president loses confidence in someone they will no longer serve in the capacity that they’re in,” Ms. Sanders told reporters at a briefing later in the day. “The president was here today with the secretary of state. They engaged in a foreign leader visit and are continuing to work together to close out what we consider an incredible year.”
Heather Nauert, the State Department spokeswoman, went further, saying that Mr. Kelly called to deny that there was a transition plan. Ms. Nauert noted that Mr. Tillerson had not only been to the White House twice on Thursday but had also spoken with Germany’s foreign minister and the United Nations secretary general.
“He remains, as I have been told, committed to doing this job,” Ms. Nauert said. “He does serve at the pleasure of the president. This is a job that he enjoys.”
Under his plan conceived by Mr. Kelly, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward. But for all of his public combativeness, Mr. Trump is notoriously reluctant to fire people, and it was not known if Mr. Tillerson had agreed to step down by then.
Public disclosure of Mr. Kelly’s transition plan may have been meant as a signal to the secretary that it is time to go. One person close to the Mr. Trump said it may be a way to lock the president into a transition he might otherwise be reluctant to make.
At the same time, there was some concern in the White House about the appearance of a rush to the exits given that other senior officials may also leave in the early part of the new year. White House officials were debating whether it would be better to spread out any departures or just get them over with all at once.
White House officials said Mr. Tillerson had been seen as a lame duck as far back as late summer. Although Mr. Kelly sought to keep him from leaving then for the sake of continuity in the first year, the chief of staff has since come to grow weary of the constant fighting over personnel between the State Department and the White House, according to White House officials. White House aides telegraphed clearly to a number of presidential appointees that Mr. Tillerson’s days were numbered, and the only question was how long he would remain.
The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobil chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.
Mr. Tillerson’s departure has been widely anticipated for months, but associates have said he was intent on finishing out the year to retain whatever dignity he could. Even so, an end-of-year exit would make his time in office the shortest of any secretary of state whose tenure was not ended by a change in presidents in nearly 120 years.
While some administration officials initially expected him to be replaced by Nikki R. Haley, the ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Pompeo has become the White House favorite.
Mr. Pompeo, a former three-term member of Congress, has impressed Mr. Trump during daily intelligence briefings and become a trusted policy adviser even on issues far beyond the C.I.A.’s normal mandate, like health care. But he has been criticized by intelligence officers for being too political in his job.
Mr. Cotton has been perhaps Mr. Trump’s most important supporter in the Senate on national security and immigration and a valued outside adviser. Officials cautioned that there was still a debate about whether Mr. Cotton was more valuable to the president in the Senate than in taking over the spy agency in Langley, Va., but he is the consensus choice at the moment.
Under Arkansas state law, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, would appoint a replacement who could serve until the 2018 election. That could put another seat in play during a midterm election when Republicans, with 52 of 100 seats in the Senate, cannot afford to take too many chances. If Mr. Cotton stayed in the Senate, his seat would not be up for election again until 2020.
Asked about a possible move, Caroline Rabbitt Tabler, a spokeswoman for Mr. Cotton, said, “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”
Mr. Cotton may have emerged more recently as the favorite for the C.I.A., but another name has been in the mix for the last few weeks — Robert S. Harward, a retired Navy vice admiral who interviewed for and then declined the position of national security adviser after Michael T. Flynn was pushed out in February.
Mr. Tillerson’s appointment was something of an experiment from the start. Never before had a president named a secretary of state with no prior experience in government, politics or the military. Mr. Trump, who himself had no government or military experience before this year, bet that Mr. Tillerson would be able to translate his formidable skills in the corporate world to international diplomacy after 41 years at Exxon Mobil.
But Mr. Tillerson has often been on a different page than Mr. Trump, and he has spent much of his time reorganizing the State Department, slashing its budget and pushing out more than 2,000 career diplomats. Even on that he ran into serious troubles. Just this week, the counselor he brought in to execute his plan quit after just three months.