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Picking Tillerson for Secretary of State Came Down to 'Chemistry,' Priebus Says

In this photo taken Dec. 4, 2015, people arrive for Friday prayers at Dar al-Hijrah Mosque in Falls Church, Va. Americans place a higher priority on preserving the religious freedom of Christians than other faith groups, ranking Muslims as the least deserving of the protections, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON — President-elect Trump said he picked ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as the next secretary of State for his “hard work, dedication and smart deal making” as well as “tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics.”

But at least one Senate Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, which must approve of the nomination before sending it to the full chamber, isn’t sold on putting an oil exec whose foreign policy experience consists of lucrative deals with Russia in such a powerful post at a time of multiple global crises.

“He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States,” Trump said in a statement. “…I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated, to serve as secretary of State at this critical time in our history.”

Tillerson said in a statement released by the campaign that he shares Trump’s vision for “restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security.”

Incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus told MSNBC this morning that a big reason why Tillerson made the final cut was “chemistry.”

“Governor Romney’s impressive but so is so many of the others that we talked to — Mayor Giuliani, David Petraeus, Bob Corker. But at the end, it was a massive — you know, it was chemistry, it was presence, it was vision,” Priebus said. “It was also the ability that Rex Tillerson had to maintain relationships across the world in many places that aren’t the easiest places to have relationships in during many different administrations. So, obviously, he’s very good at being a diplomat.”

“And, you know, someone like him is a diplomat that happens to be able to drill oil. And the good Lord didn’t put oil in all freedom-loving democracies across the world and yet Rex Tillerson was able to make this work. And Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson, they hit it off and they have a similar vision of how to get things done and that’s really what did it.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that Tillerson “has unique experience and comes highly recommended.”

“For eight years now, the Obama administration’s policies have emboldened our enemies and left our allies questioning U.S. resolve.  Iran, Russia, North Korea and ISIS have taken full advantage,” Royce said. “To keep America safe, we need a new approach – driven by a diplomatic team that will aggressively assert U.S. national security and economic interests.”

But Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that while Tillerson “is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination.”

“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. “I look forward to learning more about his record and his views.‎ I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

While some other GOP members of the committee were mum, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted, “The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker and Bob Gates are recommending Tillerson carries considerable weight. I look forward to the hearings.”

Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the author of the Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights violations, said he’s “deeply troubled by Mr. Tillerson’s vocal opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia following its illegal invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, and his close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.”

Putin bestowed the Order of Friendship, one of Russia’s highest honors for foreigners, on Tillerson in 2013.

“I also want to know more about Mr. Tillerson’s worldview, because I found many of President-elect Trump’s foreign policy statements as a candidate, and now as the next president of the United States, to be disturbing at best and frightening at worst,” Cardin added. “And I know many of our allies did and do as well.”

“…In a world increasingly wracked by gross human rights violations, endemic corruption, brutal conflicts and shifting alliances, I expect Mr. Tillerson to be prepared to answer the Senate’s questions and offer a comprehensive vision of the president-elect’s U.S. foreign policy.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), another member of the committee, said Saturday that nominating Tillerson “would be guaranteeing Russia has a willing accomplice in the president’s Cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.”

“The term conflict of interest doesn’t even begin to describe the web of dubious business interests and bank accounts that Tillerson and his company Exxon shares with Vladimir Putin and Russian oil companies,” Menendez said. “Having no practical experience in diplomacy, Mr. Tillerson has no proven knowledge or regard for the norms and necessities that so much of our modern diplomatic and security efforts depend upon.”

Today, Menendez stressed that “the art of diplomacy entails much more than the ability to strike a good deal.”

“I look forward to a thorough confirmation process where Mr. Tillerson can explain his qualifications to effectively lead our nation on the global stage and clarify his entanglements with Russian oligarchs to the American public,” the senator added. “With this latest concerning nomination, I hope President-elect Trump recognizes the critical role Congress will play in confirming his cabinet and acting as a check on the executive branch.”

Secretary of State John Kerry said in a short statement, “I congratulate Rex Tillerson on his nomination as secretary of State.”

“The State Department will continue to provide our full support for a smooth transition, so that the incoming administration can pursue the important work of U.S. foreign policy around the world,” Kerry added.