Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson will reportedly be President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, but tea leaves in the Senate suggest it could be an uphill battle to get the oil baron confirmed.
During a briefing with reporters on Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was upbeat about the prospect of Trump’s nominees thus far being approved, but dodged a question on the likelihood of a Tillerson confirmation.
“I don’t want to comment on a phantom nominee today,” he stated.
Tillerson’s ties to Russia, cultivated over years of doing oil business in the country, worry key Republican senators. At a time when suspicions of Moscow’s interference in last month’s election are on the minds of nearly everyone on Capitol Hill, Tillerson’s Kremlin connections could torpedo his nomination.
“The Russian are not our friends,” McConnell said Monday. “I hope that those who are going to be in positions of responsibility in the new administration share my view.”
Tillerson, though, is literally a friend of the Russian government. In 2012, he was awarded the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship honor. Tillerson also opposes the current sanctions regime on Russia, which, according to The New York Times, is costing his company upwards of a billion dollars.
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee charged with studying Tillerson’s confirmation, had effusive words for the international businessman. “If it is Rex Tillerson, he is a very impressive individual,” Corker tweeted Saturday.
Assuming Democrats stand united against the nomination, all it would take is one Republican defection on the committee to wound the Tillerson pick. No Secretary of State has been confirmed by the Senate without first receiving the approval of the Foreign Relations Committee. Already, one GOP Senators on that panel has struck out at Tillerson.
“Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted on Sunday.
During an interview on Fox on Sunday, another prominent Republican senator raised doubts the Exxon Mobile chief.
“I don’t know what Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin was, but I’ll tell you it is a matter of concern to me,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
Tillerson and Trump met for more than two hours at Trump Tower on Saturday. The President-Elect hasn’t made any confirmation yet about his pick to head the State Department, but during an interview with Fox News on Sunday, he did praise the CEO.
“He’s much more than a business executive,” Trump said. “He’s a world-class player.”