Tillerson Poised for Confirmation as GOP Hawks Get in Line
Skeptical Republican lawmakers are deciding to back Trump’s pick for secretary of state after all.
Despite a tense confirmation hearing, the Senate is poised to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to become the nation’s top diplomat -- a prospect that had agitated some GOP hawks due to his longstanding business ties to Russia.
Despite a tense confirmation hearing, the Senate is poised to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to become the nation’s top diplomat — a prospect that had agitated some GOP hawks due to his longstanding business ties to Russia.
On Monday, hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee prepared to vote on Donald Trump’s pick, Sen. Marco Rubio, announced his plans to support the Texas oilman, eliminating the last GOP holdout standing in Tillerson’s way.
The Florida Republican voiced serious concerns about Tillerson during his confirmation hearing, repeatedly chastising him for refusing to use derogatory terms like “war criminal” or “human rights violator” to describe the leaders of Russia and Saudi Arabia. The comments raised the prospect that the man once belittled by Trump as “Little Marco” during the GOP primaries might seek revenge.
But that won’t be happening, Rubio said in a statement on Facebook.
“Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy,” Rubio said. “Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.”
Because no Democrats have announced support for Tillerson — and Republicans only outnumber Democrats by one on the Senate Panel — Rubio had the power to tip the vote against Tillerson. But his decision, followed by a joint announcement by Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham on Sunday that they would also support Tillerson, virtually guarantees that he will clear votes in the committee and the Senate floor.
In their joint statement, McCain and Graham said that remarks Tillerson expressed privately during the confirmation process demonstrated that he will be a “champion for a strong and engaged role for America in the world.”
Tillerson also ruffled feathers in remarks he made about China’s island-building in the South China Sea. The former Exxon chief pledged to block Beijing from some areas in the strategic waterway, which would mark a major change in the U.S. position on the issue and raised questions among policy experts as to whether he had made a gaffe. In Beijing, state media warned that any such measures would prompt a “devastating confrontation” and a “military clash.”
The 64-year-old oil magnate was an outside-the-box pick for a secretary of state given his lack of government experience, but fit the mold for Trump who has been eager to place iconoclasts in his cabinet. Democrats seized on his business dealings in Russia and concerns that when he represented ExxonMobil, he was at times at odds with U.S. policy, such as when he argued against imposing sanctions on Russia for its incursion into Ukraine or cutting oil deals with the Iraqi Kurds while sidelining Baghdad. It didn’t help that in 2012, the Kremlin gave Tillerson the Russian “Order of Friendship.”
But while Democratic opposition to Tillerson appears strong, Republicans are clearly wary of challenging the president on one of the earliest appointments of his presidency.
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