Navigation

Tillerson backed as top diplomat, but only just

The Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) — Rex Tillerson’s bid to be secretary of state narrowly won approval Monday from the Republican-led Foreign Relations Committee, a move that all but assures the full Senate will confirm President Donald Trump’s pick for the key Cabinet post.

Members of the panel voted along party lines, 11-10, to back Tillerson following a contentious confirmation hearing nearly two weeks ago that stoked concerns he might not win the panel’s recommendation. But just hours before members cast their votes, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., declared his support for Tillerson, backing off from a challenge to the new president.

Rubio said that despite serious reservations about Tillerson, particularly over his views on Russia, he believed a president was entitled to significant deference in assembling his Cabinet.

None of the committee’s 10 Democrats voted for Tillerson. They cited concerns Tillerson would continue to view the world through the lens of a corporate executive and not the nation’s chief diplomat.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the panel’s top Democrat, said Tillerson “equivocated” during his confirmation hearing on questions about human rights, civil society and press and religious freedoms, and repeatedly prioritized “narrow business interests ahead of these core national security interests.”

Every nominee for the job going back at least four decades has been approved by overwhelming votes from both sides in the Foreign Relations Committee, as senators have traditionally wanted to deliver a bipartisan display of confidence to the nation’s top diplomat. No other nominee since 1977 has received more than two “no” votes from the committee.

Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, the committee’s Republican chairman, said he has “no doubt” Tillerson is well-qualified, citing his leadership of the energy giant. Corker chided his colleagues who had demanded information about Tillerson’s personal taxes, saying the material had been used to ask “silly, silly questions.”

Corker also criticized unnamed lawmakers who held Tillerson responsible for comments Trump made during the presidential campaign or during his inauguration speech.

“To me, Mr. Tillerson is an adult who’s been around,” said Corker, adding that Tillerson can be a “very good anchor” on issues that Congress cares about.

Rubio announced he would vote for Tillerson in a statement posted on Facebook. “Despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate,” said Rubio, who’d come under strong pressure from fellow Republicans to back the nomination and avoid dealing Trump an embarrassing setback in the early days of his presidency.

Rubio had clashed with Tillerson at a committee hearing earlier this month, bridling at his refusal to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” and his failure to condemn human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines in strong enough terms. He chided Tillerson over the need for “moral clarity.”

But in the end, after unsuccessfully opposing Trump for the GOP nomination last year before coming around to support him, Rubio decided to fall in line this time, too.Speech

Click to play

0:00/-:--

+ -

Generating speech. Please wait...

Become a Premium Member to use this service.

Become a Premium Member to use this service.

Offline error: please try again.