Live coverage: Tillerson’s hearing for State
The Hill is providing live coverage of Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing for secretary of State.
The hearing is adjourned
Tillerson pushes back on idea of energy independence
Tillerson admitted he disagrees with one of President-elect Donald Trump’s top energy priorities, energy independence.
While it’s is the top bullet point on Trump’s “America First Energy Plan” listed on his website, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, said he’s never supported that priority.
“I have never supported energy independence, I’ve supported energy security,” he said.
A few minutes earlier, he noted that more global supply helps to diversify the global oil market and make every country “less reliant” on other parts of the world.
That, he said, is good for America, as is the fact that America imports more oil from Canada from any other country.
Rubio gives Tillerson low marks
Tillerson confronted on Exxon deals with Iran
Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.) cornered Tillerson about deals between a ExxonMobil joint venture and the Iranian National Oil Company, which he called an affiliate of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The finding had been unearthed just days ago in financial documents provided to USA Today by a Democratic opposition research group.
When Menendez asked if the dealings with the IRGC could have funded state-sponsored terrorism by Iran, calling the IRGC Iran’s “main connection to terror groups,” Tillerson said he could not remember.
“I do not recall the details or the circumstances around what you just described. The question would have to go to ExxonMobil for them to be able to answer that.”
Climate isn’t an ‘imminent national security threat’
Tillerson calls for “mutual respect” with Muslims
Tillerson preached the need for a “mutual respect” between America and Muslim nations when asked about comments by retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Trump’s incoming National Security Adviser, that were critical of Islam.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) brought up Flynn calling Islam a “cancer” and that fear of Muslims is “rational” to ask Tillerson what he thought those comments were doing to American interests.
“My experience has been the best relationships in which you can make promises on tough issues is built on mutual respect on one another, which hopefully leads to mutual trust … not a judgment about one’s faith,” Tillerson said.
In response, Booker praised Tillerson for “putting forth those very important values,” but suggested that anti-Muslim comments by those close to Trump could play into the hands of terrorists.
Democrats crow after tough Tillerson headlines
The Democratic National Committee is needling Tillerson and the Trump transition team with a round-up of headlines portraying his confirmation hearing as shaky.
The Democrats are needling Tillerson for headlines calling his hearing a “rough ride” with this email to reporters. pic.twitter.com/IjYhiqKzZ6
— Ben Kamisar (@bkamisar) January 11, 2017
Tillerson: ‘I do not agree’ with Trump on nuclear weapons
Tillerson bearish on Middle East peace
While noting that the State Department should work to find a way forward on working for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Tillerson admitted that peace could “take a long time.”
“Under the conditions of today, it’s extremely challenging to do that. But it has to be the aspirational goal,” he said.
“Sometimes, it takes a different generation that’s not carrying all the baggage of the past with them.”
Earlier, Tillerson reaffirmed his commitment to Israel as America’s top ally in the Middle East. He went on to criticize the recent United Nations resolution that condemned Israel for building settlements in disputed territory, which passed with a U.S. abstention.
No Muslim ban, but needs ‘more information’ on Muslim registry
Tillerson said that he wouldn’t support a “blanket-type” ban on all Muslim immigration to the United States but did not rule out a national registry of Muslims.
“I would need to have a lot more information around how such an approach would even be constructed,” he said.
“If it were a tool for vetting, it obviously extends to other groups as well that are threats to the U.S.”
He went on to add that his travels throughout Muslim countries across the world have helped him to gain “an appreciation and recognition of this great faith.”
Exxon comes to former chief’s defense
Exxon Mobil tweeted a few hours ago to bolster Tillerson’s defense of the company’s work on sanctions — he’s said the company never directly lobbied against sanctions, while Democrats have pointed to lobbying disclosures that they say show otherwise.
Let’s be clear: we engage with lawmakers to discuss sanction impacts, not whether or not sanctions should be imposed
— ExxonMobil (@exxonmobil) January 11, 2017
After Cardin told Tillerson that tax returns would help the committee better understand his various business dealings, including real estate holdings, Tillerson said that he would answer any questions but wanted the committee to “respect the privacy of myself and my family.”
Corker stepped up in Tillerson’s defense.
“This has not been a committee that has asked for tax returns, it has asked for a disclosure form. Just because we were so overwhelmingly helpful with the Democratic president’s nominees, that doesn’t mean we want to be changing the standards,” he said, arguing they should be “exactly the same” for nominees from both parties.
Tillerson: military response necessary after Crimea
This is a major issue vis-a-vis Russia, which would like to see NATO weakened https://t.co/NwQZ44BZEf
— Rebecca Berg (@rebeccagberg) January 11, 2017
Rex Tillerson’s hearing is troubling. He declined to commit to maintaining the existing sanctions regime against Russia or to new sanctions.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 11, 2017
Despite disclosures from Exxon documenting work in lobbying against Iran Sanctions, Tillerson says Exxon did not lobby to his knowledge.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 11, 2017
Tillerson hearing raises real questions as to whether PEOTUS & cabinet are prepared to stand up to Putin, Iran & represent US interests.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 11, 2017
“We defeat ISIS, we at least create some level of stability in Syria, which then lets us deal with the next priority: What is going to be the exit of Bashar Assad,” he said.
But he implied that removing Assad may not necessarily be in the United States’ best interest, depending on what that means for the future of the country.
“Before we decide that is in fact what needs to happen, we have to answer the question: What comes next? What is going to be the government structure in Syria and can we have any influence over it or not?”
“A little of both,” Tillerson replied.
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 11, 2017
Tillerson: I’ll defer to Trump on climate
Tillerson said he disagrees with President-elect Donald Trump on climate change, but he plans on carrying out whatever Trump does or does not do on the subject.
Tillerson, who led Exxon Mobil Corp. until recently, clarified that he believes that increasing greenhouse gases, caused by human activity, are changing the climate, and that action might be warranted.
the president-elect has invited my views on climate change, he’s asked for them, he knows that “I am on the public record with my views. And I look forward to providing this, if confirmed, to [Trump], and discussions around how the U.S. should conduct its policies in this area,” he told the senators.
“Ultimately, the president-elect, he was elected, and I’ll carry out his policies in order to be as successful as possible.”
Trump has repeatedly said climate change is a hoax, and he plans to repeal as much of President Obama’s climate agenda as possible.
Tillerson also said he supports a tax on carbon dioxide as the best policy solution to climate change, but tax matters would be outside his purview at the State Department.
Tillerson does not expect to talk to new Exxon CEO
Tillerson said he doesn’t expect to talk to his successor at Exxon Mobil while at the State Department.
“As to any issues involving Exxon Mobil that might come before me, if confirmed as Secretary of State, I would recuse myself from those issues,” he told Sen. Mark Udall (D-N.M.). “I would not extend to the new chairman, CEO of Exxon Mobil any courtesies that I would not extend to everyone.”
Tillerson said he would follow a required recusal agreement against interaction with Exxon Mobil if he’s confirmed. But after the period of that agreement expires, he said, he would have to talk to lawyers about what role he can play.
“In terms of broader issues dealing with the fact that it might involve the oil and ant gas industry itself, the scope of that is such that I would not expect that I would have to recuse myself,” he said.
“In any instance where there is any question or even the appearance, I would expect to seek the guidance from counsel from the office of ethics at the State Department and I will follow their guidance.”
Tillerson: Nothing wrong with improving Russian relations
Tillerson defended the notion of repairing the United States’ relationship with Russia while asserting that the two countries must still be considered adversaries on certain issues.
“We’re not likely to be friends, as others have noted, our values systems are starkly different, we do not hold the same values. But I do know the russian people because of having spent so many years in Russia. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temp around the conflicts were are having today,” he said.
“Dialogue is critical so that these things don’t spiral out of control. We need to move Russia from being an adversary always to a partner at times. And on other issues we will be adversaries.”
Tillerson and Trump have never discussed Russia
After discussing Russian matters with Tillerson, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) asked if Trump agrees. But Tillerson said the topic has not come up.
“That has not occurred yet, senator,” Tillerson said. “That’s pretty amazing,” a visibly astounded Menendez responded.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 11, 2017
Tillerson: Exxon never lobbied against sanctions
Tillerson was forced to defend his work at Exxon for the first time under questioning from Sen. Bob Menendez.
The New Jersey Democrat wanted to know why Exxon lobbied against sanctions in Russia, and how he could justify the company’s work in other countries like Iran, Syria and Iraq.
“I have never lobbied against sanctions personally,” he said. “To my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions, not to my knowledge.”
Exxon under Tillerson wanted a clearer path to operations in Russia, and it worked against both sanctions there and a bill that would make it harder for future presidents to undo the sanctions on the country. Poorly-designed sanctions, Tillerson said, are “worse than no sanctions at all.”
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) January 11, 2017
Two protestors in rapid succession interrupted Tillerson’s remarks holding GreenPeace’s “Reject Rex” sign.
Another protester (I think the second or third) holds up a “REJECT REX – GREEPEACE” sign pic.twitter.com/R7ZALDMuZH
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) January 11, 2017
Tillerson: Russia’s taking of Crimea was illegal
Tillerson told senators that he believes that Russia’s 2014 action taking control of Crimea from Ukraine was illegal.
The statement came in response to a series of questions from Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member, who asked if Russia’s action was legal.
“No, sir,” the secretary of State nominee responded. “That was a taking of territory that was not theirs.”
President-elect Donald Trump has been less clear on Crimea. For example, he and his aides pushed for the Republican Party to weaken its platform language on the issue, only saying that the United States should provide “appropriate assistance,” not “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine.
Tillerson said if he were secretary of State in 2014, he would have advised Ukraine to build up its military at its border with Russia as a “show of force,” to demonstrate that it would not accept any further aggression.
Tillerson: I ‘would not’ call Putin a war criminal
Tillerson resisted Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) contention that Putin is a war criminal because of Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war and his support for the Bashar al-Assad regime.
“Those are very, very serious charges to make and I would want to have much more information before reaching that conclusion,” he said.
Rubio dismissed that position, saying, “there is so much information out that it should not be hard to say Vladimir Putin’s military has conducted war crimes in Aleppo.”
He also questioned whether Putin should be held responsible for killing political dissidents, a question Tillerson also sidestepped.
Rubio and Tillerson spar on Russia
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) dug in on an aggressive line of questioning about the recent hacks by Russia, where Rubio pushed Tillerson to agree that Russia was behind the hacks. While Tillerson said it was unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind the hack, he added it was a “fair assumption” considering Putin’s power in the government.
Rubio also blasted Tillerson for arguing that he would not want Congress to pass legislation that demands the president institute sanctions on a country that committed a cyberattack against the U.S., adding that the president should have leeway on a “country-by-country basis.”
“What’s troubling about your answer is that if there’s some country we are trying to improve relations with … you may advise the president not to impose sanctions on that country,” Rubio said.
Tillerson: U.S. should continue international climate work
Tillerson told Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) that the United States should “maintain its seat at the table” in international climate change negotiations.
Trump has opposed President Obama’s international climate work, which culminated in 2015 in a major worldwide deal to reduce carbon emissions. Trump said during the campaign that he would end that agreement as president, though he has walked that back slightly after his election.
Tillerson’s position on climate change is a major concern for greens, who have questioned Exxon Mobil’s position on manmade global warming under his tenure as CEO.
Climate change, Tillerson said Wednesday, “requires a global response.”
Tillerson: Russia a ‘danger,’ ‘must be held to account’
Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson took a hard line against Russia in his opening testimony, calling it a “danger” to the world.
“Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests,” he said. “It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.”
“Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions,” he continued.
But Tillerson said the United States is also somewhat to blame for Russia’s aggression and for instability elsewhere, due to the “absence of American leadership” that sent “unintended signals” about its positions.
The statements contrast somewhat with Tillerson’s close friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, built on oil-related business deals through Exxon Mobil Corp., which Tillerson led until recently.
His closeness to Russia has alarmed many Democrats and some Republicans, including a handful on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Tillerson interrupted by protest
Tillerson’s opening remarks were interrupted by a protestor who, sitting behind him and well within frame of cameras broadcasting the hearing, held a “Reject Rex” sign and began to shout.
Corker: Tillerson an ‘inspired choice’
Before Tillerson can speak, committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told him and the committee that it is “very, very possible that you are, in fact, an inspired choice,” thanks to his business career.
At the hearing, “it’s going to be your responsibility to define, clearly, what America’s role in the world is going to be,” he told Tillerson.
“We know that the president-elect’s foreign policy is evolving as he takes office, as he talks to people, and there’s no way that you could speak on his behalf today. That cannot happen” Corker said.
“What people here today want to know is: how are you going to advise him?”
He added: “My sense is you are going to rise to the occasion, that you are going to demonstrate that you are, in fact, an inspired choice.”
There are various protests outside of the Dirksen Senate Office Building this morning, including a group dressed as Tyrannosaurus Rexes with a nod to Tillerson’s first name.
— Jack Miller (@politicalmiller) January 11, 2017
Gates: Tillerson ‘superbly qualified’
Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lauded Rex Tillerson as “superbly qualified” to be the United States’ top diplomat.
In testimony introducing Tillerson to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Gates, who served under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said he knows Tillerson from the Boys Scouts of America, and he’s confident in Tillerson’s abilities.
“He is deeply knowledgeable about the international scene and geopolitics, and importantly, would be an informed and independent adviser to the president. He would be candid and honest, willing to tell the president straight from the shoulder what he needs to hear,” he said, adding that Tillerson is “the right person at the right time” to be secretary of State.
Gates is a partner at consulting firm RiceHadleyGates, which counts Exxon as a client.
Former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), head of the non-proliferation group Nuclear Threat Initiative, also cheered Tillerson.
Cruz sets tone
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) set the tone of the Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee right off the bat, saying that President Obama has weakened American foreign policy during his tenure in office and that Tillerson would fix it.
“We live in a dangerous year and a dangerous world, and after the last eight years we face a circumstance where many of our friends no long trust us and many of our enemies no longer fear us,” he said.
“We need a secretary of state that understands that America is exceptional, who will establish policies on that foundation of exceptionalism and who will put America’s interests first.”
Cruz noted Tillerson’s time at Exxon, saying his experience traveling the world on the company’s behalf has prepared him to be the country’s top diplomat.
“This is the work ethic and spirit that America needs in its secretary of state.”
Notably absent from Cruz’s statement: any mention of Donald Trump, the president under which Tillerson would serve.
Cornyn gives home state hello
Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson’s confirmation kicked off Wednesday morning with introductory praise by his home state senators, Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
“Without a doubt, Rex Tillerson is an inspired choice by President-Elect Trump for this critical position,” Cornyn said to start the hearing.
“The depth and breadth of his experience as an accomplished and successful business leader and a skilled negotiator give him a solid understanding of our current economic and political challenges, making him uniquely qualified.”
A nod to the controversy that faces Tillerson thanks to his work at Exxon Mobil with the Russian government—friendly ties that prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to award him the country’s Order of Friendship—Cornyn added that “Tillerson understands how to separate friendships and business.”
Tillerson arrives, protesters removed
About a dozen demonstrators with liberal protester group Code Pink were kicked out of the room as Tillerson entered the room.
Dressed in pink feather boas and holding fake cash, the protesters silently hoisted signs with phrases like “Tillerson, Good 4 Exxon, Good 4 America” and “Tillerson, Corporate America’s Man.”
Capitol Police officers immediately escorted the protestors out for violating the rule against attendees holding signs.
Live from the Rex Tillerson Senate Confirmation hearing – a preview of today’s entertainment pic.twitter.com/PkaSD9bcOk
— Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) January 11, 2017
And the protesters are out. They held up their signs and were escorted out pic.twitter.com/JvyOCF2CmH
— Timothy Cama (@Timothy_Cama) January 11, 2017