Live coverage: Tillerson’s hearing for State

Greg Nash

The Hill is providing live coverage of Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing for secretary of State.

The hearing is adjourned

6:20 p.m.

Corker closed the hearing after nine hours, telling reporters said he was confident that Tillerson’s will be confirmed by the Senate despite some senators’ objections.
“I thought he handled himself well, and I thought the members of the committee handled themselves well,” he told reporters. 
Before he gaveled the hearing out of session, he tried to allay any concerns senators had about a lack of “clarity” from Tillerson.
Corker defended Tillerson, saying that he didn’t know he’d be nominated for this job a month ago, and he is understandably cautious about his answers.
“A nominee coming in, on the other hand, wants to make sure that he’s not getting out over his skis, he’s working for a president that he doesn’t know all that well yet, he’s trying to accommodate the fact that in fact he’s going to be working in an inter-agency situation to come to conclusions,” he said.
After the marathon session today, there will be no second day for Tillerson. Now, he must wait for the committee to vote for his nomination to reach the full Senate floor. 


Tillerson pushes back on idea of energy independence

6:10 p.m.

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

5:45 p.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) blistered Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing performance on Wednesday, telling Tillerson as the hearing wound down that he did not answer several of Rubio’s questions to his standards. 
“In order to have moral clarity, we need clarity,” Rubio said. “We can’t achieve moral clarity with rhetorical ambiguity.”
Rubio asked Tillerson about a range of topics on Wednesday, trying to get Tillerson’s opinions on Vladimir Putin, China, human rights violations in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, and other issues. Rubio said he didn’t get the answers he wanted. 
Rubio’s support is critical for Tillerson. Republicans hold a one-seat edge in the Foreign Affairs Committee and President-elect Trump needs Rubio’s vote there to get Tilleron’s nomination to the floor without invoking a special Senate procedure. 

Tillerson confronted on Exxon deals with Iran

5:20 p.m.

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’

5:07 p.m.

Tillerson sought to further specify his position on climate change as the hearing wore into the early evening hours, including the degree to which it can be a national security threat.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) asked Tillerson to agree with him that climate change can be a national security threat, citing the impact of resource limitations, sea level rise and drought, among other effects of global warming.
“I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do,” Tillerson said.
He also expressed doubt that any particular weather event can be made more likely by climate change, like Hurricane Sandy.
But Tillerson also said that limitations in climate science do not mean the country should not act to fight climate change. Merkley’s question on that matter stemmed from Tillerson’s position that not all climate change models are in exact agreement, which the two discussed before the hearing.
“The fact that we cannot predict with precision, and certainly all of the models that we discussed that day, none of them agreed … doesn’t mean that we should do nothing,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson calls for “mutual respect” with Muslims

4:40 p.m.

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

4:25 p.m.

The Democratic National Committee is needling Tillerson and the Trump transition team with a round-up of headlines portraying his confirmation hearing as shaky. 


Tillerson: ‘I do not agree’ with Trump on nuclear weapons

4:20 p.m.

Tillerson has broken with Trump on another issue, this time nuclear weapons. 
Asked if he agreed with Trump’s position, laid out during the presidential campaign, that it would’t be a bad thing if more countries had nuclear weapons, Tilleson said, “I do not agree.”
“One of the vital roles for the department … has to be the pursuit of nuclear nonproliferation,” he said, answering a question from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). 
“We simply cannot back away from our commitment to see a reduction in the number of these weapons on the planet.”
During the presidential campaign, Trump said that if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons, he’s “not sure that would be a bad thing for us.”

Tillerson bearish on Middle East peace

3:59 p.m.

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

3:37 p.m.

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

3:21 p.m.

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. 

Rubio clashes with Tillerson again
3:13 p.m.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) sparred with Tillerson for a second time, this time on alleged human rights violations in other countries.
The second exchange focused on nations like the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Cuba. Rubio repeatedly pushed Tillerson to recognize human rights violations in those countries, which Tillerson was resistant to do without more information.
But Tillerson confronted Rubio on the at-times antagonistic nature of his questioning, arguing that they were both on the same side. 
“There seems to be some misunderstanding that I see the world through a different lens. I do not. I share all the same values you share and want the same things the world over in terms of freedom,” he said, adding he didn’t want to make a rash decision to label a country a violator and risk American interests. 
Rubio’s questioning followed a sharp exchange earlier with Tillerson, when Rubio criticized him for not taking a harder line against Russia. 
Menendez pushes back on lobbying comments
3 p.m.
Doubling back on Tillerson’s earlier assertion that Exxon Mobil, under his leadership, never directly lobbied on sanctions, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) pulled out four lobbying disclosures that showed Exxon lobbying on sanctions. 
Tillerson pushed back to argue that the form doesn’t indicate whether it took a position on sanctions and that the company was only seeking information about the implementation. But Menendez swatted that explanation aside. 
“I know you are new at this, but my understanding is when you employ lobbyists who submit lobbying forms under the law, you are taking a position,” he said.
“You don’t need a lobbying disclosure form to simply seek information and clarification about a bill.”
Tillerson backs Rubio on Cuba
2:51 p.m.
After a series of questions from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, Tillerson said that he would advise the president to veto a bill that would lift an embargo on Cuba if the country hasn’t undergone significant democratic reform on the island. 
He said that President-elect Donald Trump will ask his agencies to review all recent executive orders that had been implemented by the Obama administration and added that he would want to reconsider whether Cuba should have been removed from the list of state sponsors of terror. 
Top senators disagree over tax returns
2:45 p.m.
Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) pushed back against the assertion by Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Del.) that Tillerson should provide tax documents to the committee.

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

2:39 p.m.
After a 45-minute lunch break, Tillerson returned to the witness stand and told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) a military response would have been more appropriate than sanctions after Russia’s incursion into Crimea. 
“In that situation, given the dramatic taking of Crimea, sanctions were going to be insufficient to deter Russia from taking the next step,” he said.
“My opinion is there should have been a show of force, a military response, a defensive posture, not an offense posture, to send the message that it stops here. Sanctions taken after the fact were not going to be adequate to deter that”
Booker told Tillerson such a position could lead to more military conflict between the U.S. and other countries. Tillerson replied that instead, the U.S. should have backed up Ukrainian troops on the ground — and that military options should always be a last resort. 
“I’m advocating for responses that will deter and prevent further expanses of a bad actor’s behavior,” he said. “I would not want anyone to take away that I would recommend that as the first action.”
1:37 p.m.
The committee is taking a break for lunch until 2:15 p.m.
It could be a long afternoon, as senators have not been able to ask a second round of questions. That stands in contrast to the other confirmation hearing that kicked off this morning for Transportation secretary nominee Elaine Chao, whose hearing recently adjourned. 
Tillerson and Trump disagree on NATO obligations
1:31 p.m.
When confronted about the United States’ obligation to defend NATO countries under Article 5 of the alliance’s charter, Tillerson gave an answer that doesn’t mesh with that of his future boss. 
Responding to a question from Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Tillerson said that he views Article 5 as a binding obligation. And when asked whether he would ever “threaten to break the U.S. commitment to Article 5 as a means of pressuring allies to spend more on defense,” Tillerson said he would “not recommend that.” 
During a New York Times interview in July, Trump said that he would have to evaluate whether a country has “fulfilled its obligations to us” before deciding whether to protect it. 
‘I do not oppose TPP’
1:02 p.m.
When confronted about President-elect Donald Trump’s opposition to global trade deals like the North American Free Trade Act and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Tillerson admitted he does share Trump’s exact views.
“I do not oppose TPP,” he said, “I share some of his views regarding whether the agreement that was negotiated serves all of America’s best interests.”
Schumer: Hearing raises more questions than answers
12:50 p.m.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) may not be in the hearing room, but he’s letting his feelings on Tillerson be known.
Schumer is tweeting his disapproval of the prospective secretary, pointing to Tillerson’s assertion during the hearing that Exxon Mobil did not lobby on sanctions against Russia despite documents showing that the company did.
Tillerson sought to clarify that comment after a brief break, arguing that Exxon Mobil never lobbied specifically against the sanctions, only for the State Department to give the company more time to move its employees and assets once those sanctions were levied. 
Even so, the company did lobby against a bill that would have affirmed the sanctions, admitting as much in a lobbying disclosure form last year. 
No full recusal
12:39 p.m.
Tillerson refused a call by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) to recuse himself from issues relating to Exxon Mobil for his entire term as secretary of State, instead of just the one year that he promised.
Markey said Tillerson will confront “many issues” after that one year, noting that Exxon Mobil’s interests are deep in countries like Nigeria, Iraq and Russia.
“I ask you, sir, if you would be willing to recuse yourself for your duration of your time as secretary of state, from any matter dealing with Exxon Mobil’s economic interests so the American people are sure the only interest you are serving is the interest of the American people?”
Tillerson said that he would honor the one-year recusal and after that, rely on the council of the Office of Government Ethics. 
The Assad question
12:33 p.m.
Tillerson called the Obama administration’s push to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and remove Syrian President Bashar Assad “competing priorities” in the region, arguing that the country needs to prioritize the battle against ISIS.

“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?”

Soon after his exchange ended, another protestor jumped up holding a Greenpeace sign and was escorted out. 
Exxon Mobil and climate change
12:16 p.m.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) needled Tillerson for accusations that Exxon Mobil publicly downplayed the impact of fossil fuel use on climate change despite internal research that concluded the opposite. 
“Are these conclusions about Exxon Mobil’s history of promoting and funding climate science denial despite its internal awareness of the reality of climate change during your tenure with the company true or false?” Kaine said. 
After Tillerson dodged the question, referring the question to his former company, Kaine asked: “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?”

“A little of both,” Tillerson replied.  

Kaine hits Trump on conflicts of interest
12:10 p.m.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) used Tillerson’s confirmation hearing to criticize President-elect Donald Trump on his potential international conflicts of interest.
Kaine, who was Hillary Clinton’s running mate against Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, asked Tillerson in various ways how Trump’s financial interests abroad might impact Tillerson’s diplomacy.
“Without full disclosure by the president of all of his financial interests, isn’t there a chance that you’ll be across the table in a negotiating setting, say with Russian officials, who know more about the president’s financial interests than you do,” he asked.
Trump and his family have business holdings in multiple countries outside the United States, leading to fears from Democrats and others that leaders in those countries could somehow use those financial holdings to extract better negotiating positions.
Tillerson wasn’t swayed, saying that if he doesn’t know about the problems, it won’t hurt his negotiating positions.
A message from the president-elect
12:01 p.m.
During his Wednesday press conference, President-elect Donald Trump praised Tillerson’s confirmation hearing performance.
“I think it’s brilliant what he’s doing and what he’s saying,” Trump said when asked about the confirmation process. 
He cited praise for Tillerson from Harold Hamm, an oil executive and longtime Trump ally. 
“He said there’s nobody in the business like Rex Tillerson, and that’s what I want,” Trump said. “That’s what I want to bring to government, I want to bring the best people to government.”
Trump added, “I think we have one of the great cabinets ever put together.”
Dem Rep’s one-word press release opposes Tillerson
11:56 a.m.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) has issued a succinct statement opposing Tillerson’s nomination. 
Alluding to questions about the extent of Exxon’s early knowledge of climate change, Lieu said simply in a statement: “#RexTillersonKnew.”
Lieu is one of the most aggressive Exxon opponents in Congress, calling for federal investigations into its climate science. 

Tillerson: I’ll defer to Trump on climate

11:50 a.m.

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

11:30 a.m.

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

11:10 a.m.

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

10:59 a.m.

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. 

Tillerson: Exxon never lobbied against sanctions

10:57 a.m.

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.”

More protests

10:49 a.m.

Two protestors in rapid succession interrupted Tillerson’s remarks holding GreenPeace’s “Reject Rex” sign.

Tillerson: Russia’s taking of Crimea was illegal

10:40 a.m.

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

10:39 a.m.

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

10:35 a.m.

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 

10:28 a.m.

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’

10:20 a.m.

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

10:06 a.m.

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’

9:45 a.m.

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.”

Protests outside

9:38 a.m.

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.

Gates: Tillerson ‘superbly qualified’

9:35 a.m.

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

9:25 a.m.

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

9:21 a.m.

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

9:15 a.m.

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. 

Tags Barack Obama Ben Cardin Bob Corker Bob Menendez Charles Schumer Chuck Schumer Donald Trump Ed Markey Hillary Clinton Jeff Merkley John Cornyn Marco Rubio Mark Udall Mike Pence Rob Portman Robert Menendez Ted Cruz Tim Kaine

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