Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, is already drawing concerns from senators of both parties. The naming of the Exxon-Mobil CEO has elicited concerns about issues ranging from his ties to Russia to his views on the environment.
Trump, an iconic figure in business and pop culture, is the first president-elect in American history with no prior political or military experience. He has continued bucking political tradition by nominating a candidate for Secretary of State who, like himself, has a background in business.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said Dec. 13 he had “significant concerns” about Tillerson’s ties to the Kremlin. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kaine will help decide whether or not Tillerson’s nomination will reach the Senate floor for confirmation. He said he is also concerned about the leader of an oil company’s ability to be a steward of the environment.
“Exxon-Mobil has a history of what I believe is funding climate science denial,” Kaine said. “Even though Exxon Mobil has scientists and has been aware of climate science for a very long time, they’ve been part of an effort to muddy up the water and to suggest to people that we don’t need to worry about this.”
Kaine said it’s important for the incoming leader of the State Department to maintain the progress made under the Obama Administration through the Paris Agreement signed earlier this year. The pact, signed by nearly 200 countries, creates a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), another member of the Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed worries over Tillerson.
“The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage,” Rubio said in a statement.
Tillerson is a recipient of the Order of Freindship, a distinction established by former Russina President Bori Yeltsin in 1994 and given to foreign citizens who have helped better relations with Russia. Additionally, the U.S. has placed sanctions on Russian oil exports in response to the nation’s invasion of Crimea in 2014. Exxon-Mobil could be in position to profit significantly should those sanctions be reduced or eliminated.
Other Republicans on the committee were more receptive to Tillerson.
“Mr. Tillerson is a very impressive individual and has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world,” said Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) in a prepared statement.”I congratulate him on his nomination and look forward to meeting with him and chairing his confirmation hearing.”
“While this may seem like a nontraditional choice, after eight years of foreign policy setbacks, we will need to make some bold changes to help re-establish American leadership and credibility around the world,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) in a statement. “Rex Tillerson has spent his career overseeing one of our nation’s largest companies and growing its presence around the world.”
Tillerson has also picked up endorsements from former Secretaries of State James Baker, Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates. He could still face a difficult challenge should Rubio or one of the other nine Republican members of the Foreign Relations Committee, join the nine Democrats who are expected to vote against him. If he is rejected by the committee, there’s a possibility his nomination could still be brought directly to the Senate floor, but there is no precedent for this for a cabinet post.
Should Tillerson’s nomination have to go that route, he is not a shoo-in for confirmation. He would need 51 votes, and may need Republican Vice President-Elect Mike Pence to be the tiebreaker. With 52 Republicans in the Senate, defection of Rubio, John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Grahm (R-South Carolina), who have already released statements expressing concerns over the nomination, could kill his chances.
If he’s not confirmed, Tillerson would join former Republican Sen. John Tower of Texas as the only cabinet level nominee from an incoming president in U.S. history to be rejected by the Senate.