Defense Secretary Jim Mattis openly differed with his commander in chief over North Korea on Wednesday, the latest example of a once-rare public display of disagreement by top U.S. aides that has become more frequent under President Donald Trump.
"We are never out of diplomatic solutions," Mattis told reporters, just hours after Trump said in a tweet that "talking is not the answer" to the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.
His public contradiction of Trump's position came a day after the Pentagon chief, a retired four-star Marine general, appeared to delay implementation of Trump's decision to ban transgender people from enlisting in the military.
Mattis was also among the senior aides, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, who implicitly criticized the Republican president's response to violence at a rally organized by white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month.
Presidents often disagree with senior advisers over policies or other matters but the differences are usually confined to internal deliberations and become public only through leaks or much later in memoirs, historians and former government officials said.
"I haven't seen a modern president with a pattern of this many high officials saying things like that," said Michael Beschloss, a presidential historian.
Asked in a television interview on Sunday whether Trump's initial comments blaming "many sides" for the violence in Charlottesville instead of focusing on neo-Nazis and white nationalists raised questions about his values, Tillerson said simply: "The president speaks for himself."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders sought to play down the significance of Tillerson's comments.
"I don't think anyone has tried to distance themselves. I think that at moments maybe you have people that disagree. I think that's a healthy thing for you to be able to have productive conversation," Sanders told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday.
But Beschloss said the differences being aired publicly were notable.
"These are people protecting their reputations in real time, and that is something you usually do not see in high-level officials around a president," he said.