First day of Tillerson hearing ends with confirmation vote in question

A rocky start Wednesday raised questions about whether Rex Tillerson could possibly be rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
By Andrew V. Pestano and Doug G. Ware   |   Jan. 11, 2017 at 8:39 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations wrapped the first half of its confirmation hearing on Wednesday afternoon for President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state.

Wednesday, appointee Rex W. Tillerson was questioned about a number of issues, but mainly about his ties to Russia and how he might act toward Moscow for its purported interference in November's presidential election.

Tillerson called Russia an "unfriendly adversary" which poses a "danger" as it attempts to advance its own interests in eastern Europe.

The former CEO of ExxonMobil got off to a rocky start at Wednesday's hearing, engaging in a tense exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio because Tillerson refused to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal." The Florida senator said he found Tillerson's refusal "discouraging," since Putin's criminal status is "globally accepted."

Though he did not support Rubio's statements, Tillerson took a strong-line stance against Russian interests.

"The leadership of Russia has a plan, it is a geographic plan ... to re-establish its role in the global world order," he said. "They believe they deserve a rightful role in the global world order because they are a nuclear power."

Tillerson added that although having diplomatic relations with Russia would be part of his job as secretary of state, Washington and Moscow most likely will not be allies.

"We're not likely to ever be friends," he said, adding that the United States and Russia "do not hold the same values."

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said during a confirmation hearing for secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson on Wednesday that he was discouraged the 64-year-old oil company veteran would not classify Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "war criminal." Tillerson's hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to resume Thursday. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

"At this point, they are in the 'unfriendly adversary' category," Tillerson said.

Tillerson's views on Russia have been of particular interest to lawmakers, owing to his past ties to Putin as ExxonMobil's chief executive. U.S. intelligence communities have accused Russia of hacking Democratic organizations in attempt to sway the 2016 election in Trump's favor.

The 64-year-old nominee also acknowledged at Wednesday's hearing that climate change could exist, but said that it was a "personal position."

"The risk of climate change does exist, and the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken," Tillerson said, before speculating that "our ability to predict that effect is very limited."

Tillerson said that Trump has "invited my views on climate change" and that he looked forward to working with the billionaire on global warming-related issues.

With the first day of the hearing complete, it remains to be seen whether the Foreign Relations Committee will vote to approve Tillerson's nomination.

Because the panel is comprised of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, one GOP senator breaking ranks could be all that's needed to stall Tillerson's appointment. His exchange with Rubio Wednesday -- and the possibility that all 10 Democrats could vote to reject him -- raises at least some doubt that Tillerson will get the nod.

However, if the nomination stalls in committee, the Senate could bypass the panel and bring it into the chamber for a full vote -- where Tillerson needs only a simple majority.

Day two of Tillerson's confirmation hearing in the committee is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., Thursday.

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