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 RubioIvanka Trump turns to House GOP on paid family leave Ivanka Trump weighs in on awkward hug with Rubio: ‘Fake news’ Rubio, Ivanka Trump joke about their 'alleged failed hug' 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 CorkerBob CorkerSenate expected to pass Russia sanctions bill for a second time Senate proposes fix for delayed Russia sanctions bill Dems see stall game in Russian sanctions bill 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 CardinBen CardinSenate expected to pass Russia sanctions bill for a second time Donna Brazile: Congress has duty to halt Trump on Russia sanctions Senate proposes fix for delayed Russia sanctions bill 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 GrahamThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Judiciary Committee to continue Russia probe after Mueller meeting Why does Paul Ryan want to punish American consumers? MORE (S.C.) and John McCainJohn McCainThe Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill Meghan McCain slams 'felon' Dinesh D'Souza over tweets mocking father's captivity White House launches ObamaCare repeal web page MORE (Ariz.), also announced in recent days that they would support Tillerson.