By Eli Yokley
December 13, 2016 at 11:29 am ET
Sen. Marco Rubio on Tuesday joined some of his Republican colleagues in expressing misgivings about President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as secretary of State, outgoing ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who appears to face an uphill climb to confirmation.
The Florida lawmaker, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has “serious concerns” about Tillerson’s ties to Russia, but pledged to make sure he “receives a full and fair but also thorough” confirmation hearing.
“The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage,” Rubio said in a statement, two days after he tweeted, “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for,” referring to Tillerson receiving Russia’s “Order of Friendship” from President Vladimir Putin.
Even before the transition team announced Trump’s intention to nominate Tillerson, chatter about the CEO’s ties to the Russian government from his dealings as an oil executive began to swirl. Today’s announcement comes amid new questions about Russia’s efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who serves as Trump’s liaison to Capitol Hill, declined to answer questions from reporters at Trump Tower on Tuesday about whether Tillerson would face a tough confirmation hearing, according to a press pool report.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who was also a candidate for the nation’s top diplomatic post, said in a statement Tuesday that Tillerson is a “very impressive individual and has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world.”
Republicans hold a 10-9 majority over Democrats on the Foreign Relations panel, a ratio that will remain the same in the 115th Congress. If Democrats unite to block the nomination and one Republican joins them, Tillerson’s nomination would not make it to the Senate floor.
Even Sen. David Perdue, Trump’s staunchest supporter on the committee, stopped short of endorsing Tillerson’s nomination.
“While this may seem like a nontraditional choice, after eight years of foreign policy setbacks, we will need to make some bold changes to help re-establish American leadership and credibility around the world,” the Georgia Republican said in a statement Tuesday. “… I look forward to hearing from Mr. Tillerson, examining his goals for the State Department, and learning more about his perspective on the global security crisis we face today.”
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, one of the Democrats who sits on the committee, declined to say Tuesday whether he would vote against Tillerson. But, alluding to some senior advisers on Trump’s team, Coons told reporters at the Capitol he would be “less concerned” if Trump was seeking people who were “clear-eyed.”
Even if Tillerson’s nomination advances from the committee, Republicans cannot afford many defections on the Senate floor. The GOP will have a 52-48 majority in the chamber at the start of the next Congress, where a simple-majority would be needed to confirm Tillerson. Already, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have expressed concerns about Tillerson.
McCain told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Tillerson’s ties to Putin are “a matter of concern.”
“I don’t know the man much at all, but let’s put it this way: If you received an award from the Kremlin, [an] Order of Friendship, then we’re gonna have some talkin,’” Graham said in Dec. 10 article published by The Washington Post.
A Morning Consult/POLITICO survey conducted Dec. 8 through Dec. 11 found that 21 percent of voters had a favorable view of Tillerson. Almost one-third of voters (31 percent) had a negative view, while another third did not know.
Jon Reid contributed.
Eli Yokley is a senior data reporter at Morning Consult covering politics and campaigns. @eyokley