President-elect Donald Trump’s wide-ranging search for a secretary of state has gained him allies. | Getty
It could take only three Republicans to sink him, and Marco Rubio, John McCain and Lindsey Graham have all been critical.
Donald Trump’s selection of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state on Tuesday amounted to a dare to Senate Republicans to reject the ExxonMobil chief over his close ties to Russia.
Early signs suggest the GOP won’t defy the president-elect.
Barring new revelations about Tillerson’s past and connections with Russia, there are early indications that he will be confirmed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he “looks forward to supporting” Tillerson, and several members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee sounded positive notes about the nomination after it became official.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was in the running for the job, said he told Trump on Monday that “you’re making the best choice for the country and for you at this time.” Corker will oversee the confirmation process and wouldn’t explicitly predict Tillerson’s prospects, but he’s clearly optimistic about the energy executive’s confirmation.
“I’ve got to believe he’s very, very savvy. If I look at the people that were pulling for him in the national security community … his views on Russia are not out of the mainstream,” Corker said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This guy is highly impressive. This guy didn’t just get off the last turnip truck. Rex Tillerson’s got a good sense of the things that people are going to be concerned about.”
Still, Trump and Tillerson will have little margin for error. GOP Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have all reacted critically to Tillerson’s business ties to Russia. It would take only three Republicans to sink him, if all Democrats vote no.
But no Republicans have said they will oppose Tillerson. Though several Cabinet picks over the past several decades have withdrawn their names after being selected, only one has been rejected by the Senate — John Tower, George H.W. Bush’s choice for defense secretary, in 1989.
Rubio, who is emerging as a pivotal swing vote on Tillerson, said on Tuesday he has “serious concerns” despite Tillerson’s business prowess. The onetime Trump rival, however, left himself room to back the selection.
Trump’s pick comes amid rising scrutiny of Russia that it interfered in the presidential election, further complicating Tillerson’s prospects. The president-elect has cast any caution aside, charging hard into a confirmation fight that could sap energy and early momentum from Republicans taking control of Washington for the first time in a decade.
“Is Mr. Tillerson so close to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin … that he can’t push back when he needs to?” Graham said during a Facebook chat on Tuesday. “I’m gonna give him a fair shake, but I got a lot of questions.”
Democrats agree, but said it was unclear whether they will unanimously vote against Tillerson either in committee or on the floor. In an interview Tuesday, Foreign Relations ranking member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said his committee would scrutinize Tillerson’s Russia ties, climate change views and foreign policy knowledge in places like South America and Africa.