Senate panel votes to confirm Tillerson

Senate panel votes to confirm Tillerson
© Greg Nash

A Senate committee voted Monday to confirm Rex Tillerson, bringing him a significant step closer to being the next secretary of State.

In a party-line 11-10 vote, the panel sent the former Exxon Mobil CEO's nomination to the floor with a positive recommendation.

The vote followed a shaky confirmation hearing in which Tillerson faced repeated tough questions on his ties to Russia, his opposition to United States sanctions against Russia, his willingness to fight human rights violations and other issues.

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Tillerson will now face a vote in the full Senate, where he appears certain to get the majority vote that he needs to become the top U.S. diplomat.

The vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was uncertain up until Monday morning, when Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit GOP senator: We should accept Trump's 'apology' for Russian election interference comments Controversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws MORE (R-Fla.) said he would vote for Tillerson after expressing significant reservations regarding his positions on human rights and Russia’s aggression, concerns that Democrats had also expressed.

“I concluded that it would not be good for our country to unnecessarily delay or create unwarranted political controversy over this particular nomination,” Rubio told the panel at the Monday meeting.

“My concern was that Mr. Tillerson would be an advocate for and would pursue a foreign policy of dealmaking at the expense of traditional alliances and at the expense of the defense of human rights and of democracy,” he said.

He said he had weighed those concerns against positive answers from Tillerson on issues such as Cuba and arming Ukraine.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerSenate GOP attempts to wave Trump off second Putin summit Senate approves resolution warning Trump not to hand over US officials McConnell calls for Senate hearings on Russia sanctions MORE (R-Tenn.), the panel’s chairman, said he had “no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well qualified.”

“He has managed the world’s eighth-largest company by revenue, with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world,” Corker said.

Corker added that the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics found that Tillerson had discussed a “sterling model” in how he would break his ties with Exxon to prevent conflicts of interest.

Democrats said Tillerson was too weak on standing up to Russia and other alleged human rights violators. Tillerson had a close relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, which came from business deals the two had negotiated.

While they cast Tillerson as an accomplished businessman and dealmaker, Democrats questioned whether he could successfully shift to government diplomacy work.

“I did not see that commitment to be the advocate globally for human rights and good governance that I would like to see in a secretary of State,” said Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate panel advances Trump IRS nominee Juan Williams: Putin wins as GOP spins Senate passes resolution honoring victims of Capital Gazette shooting MORE (Md.), the panel’s top Democrat.

Cardin said he was also concerned that Tillerson didn’t seem to strongly support sanctions against Russia based on its aggression toward the United States and Ukraine.

Two top GOP senators who have been concerned about Russia and Putin, Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamOvernight Defense: Trump inviting Putin to DC | Senate to vote Monday on VA pick | Graham open to US-Russia military coordination in Syria Polling analyst: Changes to legal immigration ‘the real sticking point among Democrats’ Graham would consider US-Russia military coordination in Syria MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainControversial Trump judicial nominee withdraws Trump vows to hold second meeting with Putin Ex-Montenegro leader fires back at Trump: ‘Strangest president' in history MORE (Ariz.), also announced in recent days that they would support Tillerson.