Rubio to vote for Tillerson

Rubio to vote for Tillerson
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Trump bets base will stick with him on immigration MORE (R-Fla.) announced Monday morning that he would support President Trump's pick to lead the State Department, removing the last significant stumbling block to the nomination.

Rubio, who aggressively questioned secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson during his hearing earlier this month, had been the lone Republican holdout on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy," Rubio said in a statement on his Facebook page. 

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"Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate."

Because of the committee's structure, a defection by even one Republican senator would have denied Tillerson the majority vote he needed to easily move to a floor vote. However, as Rubio weighed his decision, Committee chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount MORE (R-Tenn.) told reporters that he'd still be able to bring Tillerson up for a floor vote regardless of whether he wins the majority in the committee. 

Now that Rubio joins Republican Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (Ariz.) in support, Tillerson is expected to be confirmed once the full Senate holds its vote.

The Foreign Relations panel plans to hold its vote Monday to move Tillerson toward confirmation on the chamber floor.

Tillerson came into his nomination hearing facing a slew of questions over his ties to Russia as the former CEO of Exxon Mobil. But while virtually all of the Democrats on the committee pushed Tillerson during his hearing, Rubio's assertive questioning stood out among his Republican peers.

The Florida senator criticized him for refusing to label China and Saudi Arabia as human rights violators, refusing to say Russia committed war crimes in Syria and waffling over whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has killed dissidents and journalists.

Those questions, along with his public wavering about his vote, drove speculation that Rubio was laying the groundwork to vote against Tillerson and potentially jeopardize the nomination.

The Democratic National Committee chided Rubio for "rolling over for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE" in a pointed statement just minutes after Trump's former GOP primary foe announced his decision.

“By ignoring his serious reservations about Tillerson’s connections to Vladimir Putin, Marco Rubio is not only rolling over for Donald Trump, he’s earning the nickname Trump gave him: Little Marco," DNC senior adviser Zac Petkanas said.  

Rubio pointed to those disagreements in his statement, calling Tillerson’s “answers on a number of important questions ... troubling." He added that he remains "concerned" about the country's future foreign policy direction "in the years to come," warning against "a foreign policy that too often sets aside our values and our historic alliances in pursuit of flawed geopolitical deals."  

He said, however, that his concerns were outweighed by Tillerson's "extensive experience and success in international commerce" along with Rubio’s desire to give Trump "deference" in filling his inner circle.

But Rubio added that he would not give Trump's State Department picks "the same level of deference" in the future.