At the end of the hearing to confirm outgoing ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) seemed hesitant to fully back Tillerson’s confirmation.
Rubio took several minutes to note that Tillerson declined to call out certain world leaders for human rights violations, indicating that those responses were troubling.
“I asked you about whether Vladimir Putin was a war criminal, something that you declined to label him as. I asked about China, whether they were one of the worst human rights violators in the world, which again, you didn’t want to compare them to other countries. I asked about the killings in the Philippines. I asked about Saudi Arabia being a human rights violator, which you also declined to label them,” Rubio told Tillerson.
“You said you didn’t want to label them because it would somehow hurt our chances to influence them or our relationship with him. But here’s the reality, if confirmed by the Senate and you run the Department of State, you’re going to have to label countries and individuals all the time,” the senator continued. “You gave the need for a lot more information in order to comment on some of these. And believe me, I understand that it’s a big world. There’s a lot of topics. These were not obscure areas. I can tell you that, number one, the questions I asked did not require access to any sort of special information that we have.”
Rubio then lamented that he was unable to get Tillerson to “acknowledge that the attacks on Aleppo were conducted by Russia” and that the former Exxon CEO seemed “unaware of what’s happening in the Philippines.”
“I have no questions about your character. Your patriotism. You don’t need this job,” Rubio said. “But I also told you when we met that the position you’ve been nominated to was, in my opinion, the second most important position in the U.S. government, with all due respect to the vice president.”
Rubio said that people all over the world look to the U.S., and that when the U.S. is “not prepared to stand up and say, yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal … it demoralizes these people all over the world.”
Rubio said that by not calling out human rights abuses, the U.S. leads people abroad to believe that “America cares about democracy and freedom as long as it’s not being violated by someone that they need for something else.”
“That cannot be who we are in the 21st century. We need a secretary of state that will fight for these principles. That’s why I’m asking these questions,” Rubio said.
After leaving the hearing, Rubio was unwilling to commit to backing Tillerson’s confirmation. He told reporters that he would review Tillerson’s answers during the hearing again before making a decision.
“I have to make sure that I am 100 percent behind whatever decision that I make, because once I make it, it isn’t going to change,” he said.
At the end of the hearing, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chair of the committee, appeared to respond to Rubio’s comments. He told senators looking for “clarity” that while senators gain a strong sense of “clarity” through their work in Congress, a nominee may want “to make sure that he’s not getting out over his skis” and is adjusting to working with a new boss.
Follow along for our coverage of the hearings below through out the day:
Update at 6:24 p.m.: Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, appeared to respond to Rubio’s concerns in his closing remarks. Corker said that Tillerson has “been wafted in, if you will, from a totally different world” but answered questions from the committee without any notes. Corker urged those with “questions about clarity” to consider that Senators gain a strong sense of “clarity” through their jobs, but that a nominee “wants to make sure that he’s not getting out over his skis” and that Tillerson has started “working for a president that he doesn’t know that well yet.” Corker added that Tillerson said he would work with other agencies on certain issues.
“I hope those things will be taken into account if there are questions about clarity,” Corker said.
Update at 5:45 p.m.: Tillerson said that he “would agree” with the Trump advisers who have come out in opposition to waterboarding.
Update at 5:35 p.m.: In his last round of questioning, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lamented that Tillerson declined to call out the government of the Philippines for carrying out human rights violations and would not call Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.”
“Today I’ve been unable to get you to acknowledge that the attacks on Aleppo were conducted by Russia,” Rubio said. “You are not prepared to label what’s happening in China and Saudi Arabia, a country that my understanding you’re quite aware of.”
Rubio told Tillerson that as secretary of state, he will “have to label countries and individuals all the time.” Rubio indicated that Tillerson will have to take stronger stances if he is confirmed.
“America cares about democracy and freedom as long as it’s not being violated by someone that they need for something else,” Rubio said. “That cannot be who we are in the 21st century.”
Update at 4:55 p.m.: Earlier in the hearing, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) grilled Tillerson on his claims that Exxon did not lobby against U.S. sanctions on Russia but that the company merely sought to understand the impacts and timeline of the sanctions. Watch the exchange:
Update at 4:53 p.m.: Tillerson elaborated on his views on climate change. He said that science cannot clearly predict the impact of climate change but that such uncertainty “doesn’t mean that we should do nothing.” When asked if the odds of dramatic weather events like hurricanes occurring has increased due to climate change, Tillerson said that “there’s some literature out there that suggests that” but that other literature is “inconclusive.”
Update at 4:36 p.m.: Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) sought to clarify Tillerson’s position on a national registry of Muslims. Tillerson said that he does “not support targeting any particular group.” When asked about the NSEERS program started under the George W. Bush administration, Tillerson said he did not have enough information on the program
Update at 4:33 p.m.: Tillerson was asked about his earlier hesitance to commit to sanctions against Russia over the country’s attempts to interfere in the U.S. election. Tillerson said he would consider a response of some form, even if not sanctions, if information he receives indicates there was Russian interference in the election.
Update at 4:26 p.m.: Tillerson disagreed with Donald Trump’s past statements that it would not be bad if South Korea, Japan, and Saudi Arabia obtained nuclear weapons.
“I don’t think anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet,” Tillerson said when asked about Trump’s past comments.
Update at 4:21 p.m.: When asked if the Iraq war was a “mistake,” Tillerson said that the United States’ motives were “commendable” but that the war did not bring “stability” to the region.
Update at 4:19 p.m.: Tillerson would not say that the government of the Philippines has carried out extra judicial killings and violated human rights.
“I’m sure the committee has seen a lot of evidence that I’ve not seen. I’m not disputing your conclusion. You’re asking me to make a judgment on only what I’m being told. That’s not how I make judgments,” Tillerson said.
He added that he would need multiple sources to confirm that an incident took place, saying that as an engineer he deals with “facts.”
Update at 4:00 p.m.: Tillerson indicated that he supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, claiming that he does not have enough information.
“I think that’s the dream everyone is in pursuit of. Whether it can be a reality remains to be seen,” Tillerson said when asked if he supports a two-state solution.
He added that the State Department should “try to create an environment that brings parties together.”
Update at 3:53 p.m.: When asked about undocumented immigration from Central America and the State Department’s role, Tillerson said that “well-intended” actions by the U.S. to defer the deportation of some immigrants may have been “misinterpreted” in those countries. Tillerson said that the U.S. should help address issues in the Central American countries and work with Mexico to secure its southern border.
Update at 3:28 p.m.: Tillerson said that he was unaware “of any plans to alter the One China position” when asked about the Trump administration’s plans for relations with Taiwan and China.
Update at 3:23 p.m.: When asked if he would support a ban on Muslims traveling or immigrating to the U.S., Tillerson said that he does “not support a blanket type rejection of any particular group of people.” But when asked if he would support a national registry of American Muslims, Tillerson said he “would need to have a lot more information on” how that would work and that any registry “would probably extend to other groups that are threats.”
Tillerson called Islam a “great faith,” and said that it is not helpful for one to suggest that Americans should be afraid of Muslims. Tillerson used the term “radical Islam” in his opening remarks and said during questioning that the U.S. “should support Muslims who reject radical Islam.”
Update at 3:13 p.m.: While discussing the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Tillerson said that it will be hard to create an environment for peace discussions until Palestinian leaders are “willing to do more than denounce violence” and make efforts to prevent violence. He said that the conflict has to be settled by Israel and Palestine.
Update at 2:59 p.m.: Tillerson distanced himself from remarks made by Trump during his campaign calling Mexicans criminals and “rapists.” When asked about Trump’s comments and whether Mexicans are criminals and rapists, Tillerson replied, “I would never characterize an entire population of people with any single term at all.”
Watch a clip of Tillerson’s comments:
Update at 2:51 p.m.: Tillerson was hesitant to share his opinion on U.S. relations with Cuba. When first asked if he would oppose a bill allowing Americans to travel to Cuba, Tillerson said that the Trump administration would assess that. When pressed on the issue by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tillerson said that he would “support a veto” of the bill before a review of Cuba policy has been completed. Tillerson said he would support vetoing a bill lifting the U.S. embargo on Cuba, but he would not address whether Cuba should be listed as a sponsor of terror.
Update at 2:30 p.m.: Tillerson said that he did not think U.S. sanctions were enough to deter Russia from further aggression after it invaded the Crimea. Tillerson said that there “should have been a show or force, a military response.” He added that the U.S. should have supported the Ukrainian military against Russia by “providing them with capable defensive weapons.”
Update at 1:31 p.m.: Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) asked Tillerson if he would threaten to break with Article 5 of the NATO treaty to get allies into spending more on defense, and Tillerson replied that he would not.
Portman also asked Tillerson if he would support providing weapons to Ukraine to defend itself from Russia, and Tillerson said he would support that. Tillerson said it is “important for us to support them in their ability to defend themselves.”
Update at 1:08 p.m.: Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) quizzed Tillerson about ExxonMobil’s decision to use a subsidiary to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran, Syria and Sudan. Tillerson said that he did not have any “memory” of it and that questions should be directed to Exxon.
Merkley then asked Tillerson if as secretary of state he would contact company CEOs who tried to go around U.S. sanctions. Tillerson would not give a direct answer. He said that the appropriate authorities should deal with any laws broken and that he “would certainly be open” to State Department employees reaching out to “inquire” about companies’ activities.
When asked if it upsets him that Exxon circumvented U.S. sanctions, Tillerson said that he does not “recall the circumstances. When asked again, he replied, “I don’t know how to answer the question.”
Update at 12:46 p.m.: Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) asked Tillerson about the Paris climate accord and whether he would honor that agreement as secretary of state. Tillerson replied that he is sure there will be an opportunity “to do a fulsome review of our policies around engagement on climate issues.” Tillerson added that Trump touts an “America first” motto and that the administration would look into whether there “are there any elements of that that put America at a disadvantage.”
When asked by Markey if the U.S. should work to address climate change on the global stage, Tillerson replied, “I think it’s important for America to remain engaged in those discussions.”
Update at 12:25 p.m.: Murphy also asked Tillerson about new reports that Russians have a dossier on Donald Trump. When asked if he has been briefed on that dossier, Tillerson replied, “I have not.” When asked if Exxon has worked with Paul Manafort or Carter Page, Tillerson said, “Not that I’m aware of.” And when asked if law enforcement agencies should try to “determine the accuracy of these allegations,” Tillerson said he would leave it up to those agencies.
Update at 12:22 p.m. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) sought to clarify whether Tillerson would support imposing sanctions on Russian actors who carry out cyber attacks on the U.S. Tillerson said he would “need to be fully informed as to what all the options are” before making a decision on sanctions.
Update at 12:20 p.m.: Sen. Todd Young (R-IN) asked Tillerson if the U.S. should join its NATO allies in defending a NATO member if Russia were to invade a NATO country. Tillerson replied that the “Article 5 commitment is inviolable and the U.S. is going to stand by that commitment,” adding that the U.S. would join NATO members if they all agree to act.
Update at 12:00 p.m.: Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked Tillerson about allegations that Exxon hid what it knew about the science behind climate change. When asked if the allegations were true, Tillerson replied that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.”
Kaine then asked Tillerson if he lacked the knowledge to answer or if he was refusing to answer. Tillerson said it was “a little of both.”
Update at 11:33 a.m.: Tillerson was asked whether he believes that human activity contributes to climate change. In response, Tillerson said that the “increase in greenhouse gases are having an effect” on the climate but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.” He also said that he has spoken to Trump about his beliefs on climate change and that the President-elect has been willing to listen.
Update at 11:31 a.m.: Tillerson was asked if he would retaliate against any State Department employees who previously worked on projects related to climate change.
“No sir, that’d be a pretty unhelpful way to get started,” Tillerson replied.
Update at 11:27 a.m.: Tillerson was asked how he would address any potential conflicts of interest given his past position leading Exxon. Tillerson said he would “recuse” himself from any issues directly related to Exxon, but he said he “would not expect to have to recuse” himself from broader issues related to the oil and gas industry. When asked if he would take phone calls from the new Exxon CEO, Tillerson said, “I would not expect that I will be taking phone calls from any business leaders.”
Update at 10:57 a.m.: Menendez also asked Tillerson about Exxon’s opposition to sanctions against Russia after the invasion of the Crimea and the oil company’s moves to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran, Syria and Sudan. Tillerson said that Exxon did not lobby against U.S. sanctions against Russia, and he said that he would “pivot” as secretary of state and would represent America’s interest.
Update at 10:50 a.m.: Further questioned by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tillerson said that Russia’s invasion of Crimea and bombing campaigns in Aleppo, Syria, were unacceptable, but he would not say whether bombing in Syria constitutes a war crime.
Update at 10:37 a.m.: Sen. Marco Rubio asked Tillerson if Putin is a “war criminal,” to which Tillerson replied, “I would not use that term.”
Watch a clip of Rubio’s exchange with Tillerson:
Update at 10:36 a.m.: Tillerson called U.S. intelligence officials unclassified report on Russian hacking in the 2016 “troubling.” He would not at first say whether Russian actors could have carried out cyber attacks without Vladimir Putin knowing, but he then said it was a “fair assumption” to make that Putin would know about such actions.
Update at 10:27 a.m.: Sen. Ben Cardin launched questioning by asking Tillerson about Russia. Tillerson told Cardin that he would uphold U.S. law placing sanctions on certain Russian individuals who violate human rights and that Russia does not have a legal claim to the Crimea. He also said he supports sending NATO troops to counter Russian aggression.
Update at 10:12 a.m.: In his opening statement, Tillerson criticized an “absence of American leadership” in the world and pledged to strengthen the United States’ standing abroad. He said that the U.S. must focus on defeating the Islamic State and adjust its relationship with China. On Russia, Tillerson said that a lack of American leadership allowed recent Russian aggression, but he did not mention Russian hacking during the 2016 election.
Read Tillerson’s prepared remarks:
Update at 9:54 a.m.: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the committee’s ranking member, began his opening statement by noting that running a global company differs greatly from serving as secretary of state. Cardin indicated that he will use the hearing to try to understand how Tillerson will “pivot” from being a CEO to being a “statesman.” Cardin also brought up intelligence officials beliefs that Russia interfered in the U.S. election and Exxon’s business activities in Russia, and Cardin told Tillerson that he would like to know Tillerson’s views on how the U.S. should approach Russia.
Update at 9:43 a.m.: In his opening statement, Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered some praise for Tillerson. He said that Tillerson’s role leading a major company and working with world leaders will “give our new president much greater confidence in your ability to offer advice.” He told Tillerson that much of the hearing will focus on probing how Tillerson plans to advise Trump on foreign policy.
Update at 9:26 a.m.: Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) also offered an introduction of Tillerson, speaking largely about Russia. Nunn accepted U.S. intelligence officials’ conclusions about Russian hacking in the 2016 election and argued that Tillerson will be well-equipped to work with Russia to keep America safe.
Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates, who reportedly recommended Tillerson to Trump, also touted Tillerson’s credentials in an introduction. He said that the outgoing Exxon CEO has “decades of experience as a tough and successful negotiator with foreign governments” and argued that Tillerson is prepared to push back against Russian aggression while also improving the U.S. relationship with Vladimir Putin.
Update at 9:19 a.m.: Tillerson’s home state senators, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced Tillerson at the beginning of the hearing on Wednesday morning. Cornyn called Tillerson an “inspired choice” for secretary of state who has “been recognized for his humility and his altruism.” Cruz noted that Tillerson was an Eagle Scout and touted the outgoing ExxonMobil CEO’s work ethic.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will kick off its confirmation hearing Wednesday morning for Donald Trump’s choice to lead the State Department, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.
The hearing will likely focus on Tillerson’s experience and qualifications, given that he has no experience in government, as well as his ties to countries like Russia.
Even some Republican senators have questioned Tillerson’s qualifications to serve as the nation’s top diplomat given his relationship to Russia. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), sits on the Foreign Relations Committee. Rubio initially seemed skeptical of Tillerson’s nomination, but since he voiced his concern, Tillerson supporters have been lobbying Rubio to back the secretary of state nominee.
Here are a few issues to watch for:
1. Russia. As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson worked with Russian oil giant Rosneft on a deal to explore oil resources in the Artic, after which Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson the country’s Order of Friendship honor. Tillerson also spoke out against U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed after the country invaded the Crimea. Especially given Trump’s glowing praise of Putin, senators will likely quiz Tillerson on his proposed approach toward Russia.
2. Climate Change. Senators may ask Tillerson about his views on climate change, given his career working for a major oil company. Exxon is currently under investigation by state attorneys general for allegedly misleading its investors about what the company knew about climate change. However, Tillerson supports the science behind climate change and pushed Exxon to do so as well. Exxon supports the Paris climate accord negotiated by the Obama administration, and Tillerson would be charged with such negotiations as secretary of state. Trump railed against the Paris accord on the campaign trail, but he has since said he has an “open mind” about the issue.
3. Middle East Tillerson’s views on how the U.S. should address conflicts in the Middle East are largely unknown, so senators may ask Tillerson about topics like Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Though Tillerson is not on the record about the issues facing the Middle East, he has gone against U.S. policy to do business with countries in the region. Exxon reportedly used a European subsidiary to circumvent U.S. sanctions against Iran, Syria and Sudan and strike deals in those countries.