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.
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