WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 along party lines today to send Rex Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate for confirmation, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) — who was tough on Tillerson in his hearing — agreeing to vote for the former ExxonMobil chief.
Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he believed Tillerson “misled” the committee about ExxonMobil lobbying against sanctions and use of foreign subsidiaries to “do business with state-sponsors of terrorism and some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as Sudan, Syria, and Iran.”
Cardin said he didn’t see a commitment to human rights and good governance from the nominee, and when he pressed Tillerson on Russia sanctions he “didn’t get a comfort level that it would be based on Russia’s conduct against the United States.”
The senator also had “serious concern” that Tillerson wouldn’t characterize Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings as “gross human rights violations.”
Cardin also said Tillerson’s potential conflicts were disqualifying as the nominee was “not clear at all about recusing himself” from matters relevant to ExxonMobil “beyond that one-year period.”
Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who announced his support for Tillerson early in the month, chided committee members for “asking silly, silly, ridiculous questions that have nothing to do with him serving as secretary of State” in queries submitted by lawmakers after the nominee testified for several hours before the committee.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said he was “not convinced that Mr. Tillerson shares a worldview that the United States’ foreign policy must be rooted in the values that strengthen us as a nation: championing democracy, upholding the rule of law and protecting human rights.”
“As I said during his hearing, business dealmaking is not diplomacy, and I am remain doubtful that Mr. Tillerson would fully embrace a wide-ranging policy to strengthen our alliances and forcefully confront our adversaries,” he said, noting that he didn’t feel as if the nominee gave “honest and transparent answers,” including about ExxonMobil and sanctions lobbying.
Rubio indicated that while voting for Tillerson, he wouldn’t go easy on the secretary of State’s underlings.
“I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. I also believe given the uncertainty surrounding the future direction of our foreign policy that a higher degree of scrutiny is justified in evaluating whoever is nominated to serve as secretary of State,” Rubio said in explaining his vote, later emphasizing that “upcoming appointments to critical posts in the Department of State are not entitled to and will not receive from me the same level of deference I have given this nomination.”
The Florida Republican said he remained “concerned that in the years to come, our country will not give the defense of democracy and human rights the priority they deserve, and will pursue a foreign policy that too often sets aside our values and our historic alliances in pursuit of flawed geopolitical deals.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) confessed that he was close to voting for Tillerson, but the tone and content of the president’s inauguration address influenced his “no” vote.
Corker slammed the senator for making the nominee a “proxy on people’s feelings about the president.”
“I don’t think any of us could possibly hold nominees responsible for what he said,” Corker added.
Cardin said Trump’s cabinet appointments are “critically important to this country” and it’s the Senate’s responsibility to make sure individuals are qualified for the positions and have “passion and commitment … to the role they’re taking.”
On democracy and human rights, the senator said, the secretary of State must “make this country continue to be the leader globally on these issues.”