President-Elect Donald Trump has named ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. Now, not only must Tillerson be confirmed by the Senate, but he also first must make it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Which Senators make up this committee, and how do they feel about Rex Tillerson?
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which consists of 19 Senators, is in charge of leading all foreign-policy related debates and overseeing the appointment of every member of the State Department. The nomination process will start with Trump formally presenting the Foreign Relations Committee with Tillerson’s name, at which point the committee will hold hearings looking into his background and his qualifications for the job. It’s during these hearings that Tillerson’s Russia ties will be heavily scrutinized.
Tillerson must be approved by 10 members of the committee in order to even have a vote on the Senate floor; if a majority of committee members oppose him, he will not be the next secretary of state.
So who will be on the committee next year, and who will vote which way on Tillerson? Technically, the committee for next year’s Congress has not been appointed, but it’s likely to remain the same as it is today with the exception of one unknown Democrat replacing Barbara Boxer, who is retiring.
The following senators are who Rex Tillerson will have to go through in order to join Donald Trump’s cabinet:
Marco Rubio (R-Florida)
First up is Senator Marco Rubio, who ran an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2016 and who was a fierce critic of Donald Trump before later throwing his support behind him. Rubio, a junior senator from Florida, has expressed skepticism over Tillerson’s appointment, worried about the man’s relationship with Russia.
Rubio made the following statement on Twitter when rumors emerged that Tillerson was the secretary of state frontrunner:
Rubio reiterated this skepticism when Trump made the nomination official on Tuesday, saying that he has serious concerns about Tillerson and his ability to serve as secretary of state. The Florida senator released this statement on Tuesday:
While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination. 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. I look forward to learning more about his record and his views. I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Rubio does specify that he intends to give Tillerson a chance through the nomination process, and a source familiar with Rubio’s thinking told Politico that the senator is not an automatic “no” vote.
Given the structure of the Foreign Relations Committee, though, if every Democrat votes against Tillerson, only a single Republican needs to give a “no” vote in order for Tillerson to fail to make it to the Senate. Rubio may well be that “no” vote.
Bob Corker (R-Tennessee)
On the other hand, not everyone on the committee feels the same way about Tillerson as Rubio does. One of his colleagues is Tennesee Senator Bob Corker, a junior senator who backed Donald Trump throughout the 2016 campaign and who was himself considered for the position of secretary of state.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Senator Corker said that he was impressed with the selection of Rex Tillerson.
“Mr. Tillerson is a very impressive individual and has an extraordinary working knowledge of the world,” Corker said in his statement. “I congratulate him on his nomination and look forward to meeting with him and chairing his confirmation hearing. On a personal note, it has been an honor to be considered for Secretary of State. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the President-elect and his team throughout this process and appreciate the deliberate manner in which he arrived at this decision. I look forward to working with him to move our country forward.”
This isn’t to say that Corker is a fan of Russia, though, and he may have some tough questions for Tillerson through the hearings. Although he is a Trump supporter, Corker has in the past questioned Trump’s praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I think one has to be a little careful to let flattery affect one’s judgment,” Corker said on CNN back in September. “…let’s face it, over the last several years, President Putin has operated in ways that very much have been against our interests and I think we have to recognize that’s just a fact.”
Jim Risch (R-Idaho)
Next up is Idaho Senator Jim Risch, who has previously served as the lieutenant governor and then governor of Idaho.
Risch has made no public comment about the Tillerson appointment. In a recent interview on CNN, though, Risch expressed skepticism that Russia actually interfered in the 2016 election, saying that while they may have hacked into DNC email accounts, nothing they did helped Trump win.
“Interfere means did they affect the outcome of the election,” Risch said. “In my judgement, they had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election.”
However, Risch is one of 12 Republican senators who recently urged Trump in a letter to support the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression. This letter came as a reaction to Trump’s favorable comments towards Russian President Vladimir Putin, and so Risch may have difficulty approving a secretary of state who has ties to the country.
“In light of Russia’s continued aggression and repeated refusal to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereign right to choose its own destiny, we also renew our call for the United States to increase political, economic and military support for Ukraine,” the letter signed by Risch read, according to Reuters.
Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin)
Ron Johnson is a senior senator from Wisconsin who assumed office in January 2011. In addition to his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he is also the chair of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
This week, Johnson said that he believes Rex Tillerson to be a fine choice for secretary of state, calling him a world-class player and not expressing any of the concern of some of his Senate colleagues.
“I have been impressed with the experience and competence of President-elect Trump’s nominees. The nomination of Mr. Tillerson adds another world-class player to the team,” Johnson told the Wisconsin State Journal. “I look forward to meeting Mr. Tillerson and discussing the enormous global challenges we must address.”
Johnson made no mention of the concerns over Tillerson’s ties to Russia and to Vladimir Putin.
Jeff Flake (R-Arizona)
Another member of the committee is Jeff Flake, a junior Republican senator from Arizona. He also serves on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the Committee on the Judiciary and the Special Committee on Aging.
Flake is no fan of Donald Trump, refusing to back him all through the presidential campaign and even saying in the week before the election that he was considering writing in Evan McMullin for president.
Although Flake did release a statement reacting to the Rex Tillerson appointment, it doesn’t really make clear how he will vote. He does not express any personal opinion of Tillerson but says he takes into considering the support Tillerson has among other Republicans.
“The fact that former Secretaries of State James Baker, Condoleezza Rice, and Robert Gates are recommending Mr. Tillerson carries considerable weight,” Flake said. “I look forward to the hearings.”
Cory Gardner (R-Colorado)
Cory Gardner is a junior senator from Colorado who previously served in the House of Representatives representing Colorado’s fourth district. Starting next year, he will begin serving as the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
After President-Elect Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson, Gardner released a statement similar to that of Jeff Flake, expressing no real opinion of Tillerson one way or the other and simply saying that he will examine the ExxonMobil CEO during the hearing process.
“Congress has the constitutional responsibility of advice and consent and we will rigorously exercise it,” Flake said, according to Pilot Online.
The Washington Post points out that Gardner may not want to upset oil executives, especially as he will need to lobby for their money as chairman of the NRSC.
David Perdue (R-Georgia)
David Perdue is a junior senator from Georgia who assumed office in 2015. Before getting involved in politics, though, Perdue had a career in business, working as a management consultant for over ten years and then working for companies such as Haggar Clothing, Reebok, and Pillowtex.
Unlike the Republicans who were skeptical of Tillerson or refused to offer an opinion, Perdue defended Rex Tillerson in his statement, saying that this a bold choice and indicating that he is leaning towards a yes vote, although saying that he needs to learn more about the businessman’s perspective.
Here is Perdue’s full statement:
“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. Rex Tillerson has spent his career overseeing one of our nation’s largest companies and growing its presence around the world. As both a business guy and chairman of the subcommittee that overseas State Department management, 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.”
Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia)
Also from Georgia is Johnny Isakson, a senior senator who assumed office in 2005. He previously served in the Georgia Air National Guard, the Georgia House of Representatives, and the Georgia Senate.
Like his colleague from Georgia, Isakson is a fan of the Tillerson pick, and in a statement he praised the businessman’s background and his knowledge of foreign policy. Isakson seems to be a pretty solid yes vote.
“Mr. Tillerson has an impressive background with unique experience and extensive knowledge of working in a global environment,” Isakson said in his statement. “I congratulate Mr. Tillerson on his nomination, and I look forward to meeting with him during the conformation process to learn more about how he views the world and America’s national interests.”
Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)
Rand Paul is a senator from Kentucky who has served since 2011, and he also ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 against Donald Trump.
In addition to Marco Rubio, Rand Paul is also actively considering voting against Rex Tillerson. Paul is extremely critical of Russia and has had no issues pledging to oppose some other Trump cabinet nominees, with Paul previously saying that he would block John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani if they were nominated for secretary of state.
Paul doesn’t seem to feel quite so negative about Tillerson himself. But the problem for him is that John Bolton will be Tillerson’s second-in-command, and if that’s the case, Paul says he will reject Tillerson’s nomination.
“John Bolton is so far out of it and has such a naive understanding of the world,” Paul said in an interview with ABC this week. “If he were to be the assistant or the undersecretary for Tillerson, I’m an…automatic no on Bolton. He should get nowhere close to the State Department if anybody with the same worldview is in charge.”
John Barrasso (R-Wyoming)
The last Republican member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is John Barrasso from Wyoming. Barrasso has not released a statement regarding the Tillerson pick, but he has been even more critical of Russia than many of his Republican committee colleagues, and so he is certainly a candidate for a no vote.
In September of this year, Barrasso said that President Obama has not been nearly tough enough on Russia, adding that he is deluding himself by thinking the United States can successfully negotiate with Russia.
“We all remember in 2012 President Obama laughed off the suggestion that Russia was a serious threat to the United States,” Barraso said. “Russia responded to the ‘reset’ in terms of what Russia has ignored it, sent troops into Ukraine, sent troops into Crimea, annexed Crimea, and invaded eastern Ukraine…For almost eight years, this administration has been living in a cocoon of self-delusion with regard to Russia.”
Ben Cardin (D-Maryland)
In addition to the 10 Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee, there are also nine Democrats, starting with Maryland Senator Ben Cardin. Cardin assumed office in 2007, having previously served in the House of Representatives.
Cardin said this week that he has an open mind going into the Rex Tillerson hearings but that he is extremely concerned about the man having a role in Trump’s administration.
However, Cardin did say in a recent interview on CNN that he doesn’t want to pre-judge.
“I really do think the members of the Senate need to recognize our independent roles,” Cardin said. “This is a constitutional responsibility we have on advice and consent. And we need to make sure we do it in an objective way, but I can tell you, these are questions that are going to be asked, and we want to make sure that the next secretary of state is going to put America’s interests before commercial interests.”
Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey)
Bob Menendez is a senior senator from New Jersey who has served since 2006. He served as the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until 2015, and before that he was the chair of the House Democratic Caucus
Menendez fiercely opposes Tillerson’s appointment, saying in a statement on Tuesday that he has “grave concerns” about Tillerson. He added that the businessman has conflict of interests and that he has seen nothing to make him think otherwise.
In a quite lengthy statement, Menendez also made reference to Russia’s role in the 2016 election, saying that the stakes of this approval process could not be higher.
Here is Senator Menendez’s full statement:
Since I and many others expressed grave concerns over Rex Tillerson’s qualifications for the position of Secretary of State and his clear conflict of interests with Vladimir Putin and Russian oil companies, I have seen nothing to ease our concerns.
The fact is the art of diplomacy entails much more than the ability to strike a good deal. Striking a business deal where profits are the only end goal is fundamentally different than being tasked with forging lasting peace accords across the world, protecting America’s national security and interests, and defining our response and role to an international crisis. The United States is at a critical juncture with nations around the world, and our interests need to be represented and articulated by a qualified leader with proven knowledge and regard for the norms and necessities that so much of our modern diplomatic and security efforts depend upon.
As we just witnessed with the intelligence community’s confirmation of Russia’s malicious intervention in our electoral process, the stakes could not be higher, and I am deeply troubled with the idea of a Secretary of State Tillerson guaranteeing Dictator Vladimir Putin has a willing accomplice in the Presidential Cabinet guiding our nation’s foreign policy.
I look forward to a thorough confirmation process where Mr. Tillerson can explain his qualifications to effectively lead our nation on the global stage and clarify his entanglements with Russian oligarchs to the American public. With this latest concerning nomination, I hope President-elect Trump recognizes the critical role Congress will play in confirming his cabinet and acting as a check on the executive branch.
The United States Congress must stand united in our support of our democratic allies around the world, and I look forward to working together to ensure we maintain those alliances and promote our interests through the adoption of commonsense legislation like the STAND for Ukraine Act.
Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire)
From New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen has been in the Senate since 2009, previously serving as the governor of New Hampshire from 1997 to 2003.
Senator Shaheen said on Tuesday that she has deep concerns over Rex Tillerson. Like Senator Menendez, Shaheen cites Tillerson’s potential conflicts of interest, and she also adds that is imperative that the United States stand up to Russia.
“It’s imperative that our Secretary of State have no qualms about confronting Russian aggression around the globe and should be completely unencumbered from personal conflicts of interests,” Shaheen said in her statement. “I have deep concerns about Rex Tillerson’s candidacy that are shared on both sides of the aisle, and I intend to review his record thoroughly during the confirmation process. But let me be clear: I will not support any candidate who would undermine NATO, our international agreements to combat climate change, or our efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”
Chris Coons (D-Delaware)
Chris Coons is a junior senator from Delaware who in 2010 was appointed to the seat that Joe Biden left vacant when he became vice president. He previously served as chief executive of New Castle County
Coons was also extremely critical of President-Elect Trump’s secretary of state pick. Coons conceded in his statement that Tillerson has decades of business experience, but he said that this is not enough to make for an effective secretary of state.
Coons also made reference to Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin. Here is his full statement:
Rex Tillerson has decades of experience doing business internationally. Business experience, though valuable, is different from fighting for the interests of the United States, which must include fighting for democracy, for human rights, and a free press.
Given Mr. Tillerson’s long friendship with Vladimir Putin and the President-elect’s flippant dismissal of clear evidence that Russia sought to influence our presidential election, this nomination further calls into question the President-elect’s foreign policy principles. Russia is not a business partner — it is an adversary of the United States working hard to undermine democratic vlaues around the world.
The Senate Foreign Relations Commtitee owes it ot the American people to conduct thorough, details confirmation hearings on Mr. Tillerson’s nominatoin.
Tom Udall (D-New Mexico)
Tom Udall is a senior senator from New Mexico who previously represented the state in the House of Representatives.
Udall released one of the most critical statements of all in response to Tillerson’s nomination, saying that the ExxonMobil CEO’s background raises “troubling” questions and that this nomination represents that Trump is breaking his promise to “drain the swamp.”
Udall adds that he has many questions that he plans to ask Tillerson during the confirmation process, saying that the entire Senate should think long and hard before confirming him.
Here is Udall’s full statement:
The U.S. Secretary of State represents the United States on the world stage. Rex Tillerson is the highly paid CEO for Exxon, a multinational oil company that has made tens of billions of dollars in profit over the years, in part due to its foreign oil interests. And this raises troubling questions about what his agenda might be as America’s top diplomat.
“With this nomination, President-elect Trump is blatantly breaking his promise to drain the swamp of wealthy special interests, and instead is proposing to give a position of vital national importance to the leader of a corporation that defends its massive profits by operating one of the largest and most expensive lobbying and political influence efforts we’ve ever seen. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I believe the Senate should think long and hard before confirming Exxon’s CEO to represent the American people’s diplomatic interests.
“Mr. Tillerson also reportedly has close personal ties to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, and has lobbied against sanctioning Russia for its invasion of Crimea – a move that protected Exxon’s own oil interests. This deserves particular scrutiny, especially in light of Russia’s aggression on the world stage, its record of violating human rights, and the questions that have been raised about its attempt to sway the 2016 presidential election. Just yesterday, I joined the call for an independent commission to investigate Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election. We must conduct a complete, transparent and unbiased examination of this unprecedented interference in our democratic process, and we will need Congress and the administration – including the State Department — to work together to prevent it from happening again and to bolster Americans’ faith in our elections.
“Finally, while Mr. Tillerson has recently made statements in support of the Paris Agreement and a carbon tax, Exxon Mobil has a questionable record on this topic, to say the least. Ensuring a coordinated, global response to prevent catastrophic climate change is one of the singular national security and foreign policy challenges of our time, and many Americans have reason to be skeptical that a wealthy CEO of an energy company would put their interests first in this regard.
“I have many questions for Mr. Tillerson; he can expect a thorough confirmation process.
Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut)
Chris Murphy, the junior senator from Connecticut, is the only Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who stated very clearly that he plans to oppose Rex Tillerson’s nomination.
In his statement, Murphy says that the people of Connecticut deserve better than Rex Tillerson, citing the CEO’s cozy relationship with Russia. Murphy goes even further, though, by questioning the integrity of his Republican colleagues who can criticize President Obama for being weak on Russia and then go on to support Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.
Here is Chris Murphy’s statement:
Rex Tillerson has spent his entire career putting oil company profits first and the interests of his country second. That’s not surprising – it was his job as the head of Exxon. But it’s fantasy to think he will magically change his stripes once in office. The people I represent in Connecticut deserve better.
Most concerning is Mr. Tillerson’s long standing alliance with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. As one of Putin’s closest corporate allies, Tillerson opposed U.S. national security interests by siding with Russia against Europe and the United States. Mr. Tillerson opposed sanctions levied against Russia in the wake of their invasion of Ukraine. When asked by President Obama to refrain from attending a major economic development conference hosted by Putin in the middle of the Ukraine crisis, Tillerson embarrassed America and our allies by sending his deputy and announcing major new contracts with Russia at the forum. It’s not surprising that Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin just three years ago.
For years, I’ve listened to my Republican colleagues in the Senate eviscerate President Obama for being too weak on Russia. No Republican who has called for a tougher line against Russia should ever be taken seriously again if they vote to put a Putin ally at the top of the State Department.
At Exxon, Tillerson also worked against American policy in the Middle East. Most notably, when the United States was trying to build a unified Iraq under the control of a central government in Baghdad, U.S. officials begged Exxon not to sign an oil agreement with the Kurdistan regional government, which would undermine Baghdad’s authority. Tillerson once again put oil company profits over U.S. interests and signed the contract over strong U.S. government objections.
Finally, and most obviously, putting an oil company executive in charge of the State Department dooms our climate. With an oil industry executive at the helm of U.S. climate policy, polluters will be rewarded and all the progress the Obama Administration has made to control global greenhouse gases will be destroyed. Further, putting an oil executive in charge of the State Department will alienate many nations who consider climate policy a priority, making cooperation on non-climate priorities harder.
There is no doubt Rex Tillerson is a successful businessman and a very smart person. But he has proven, many times, his willingness to put oil profits before national interests, and handing him the keys of U.S. foreign policy is a recipe for disaster. Republicans and Democrats must join to oppose his confirmation.
Tim Kaine (D-Virginia)
Tim Kaine, Virginia senator and former candidate for vice president, has opposed many of Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, and Rex Tillerson is no exception.
In his statement, Kaine said that he plans to explore his “significant concerns” during the nomination process.
“I have significant concerns about the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State that I intend to explore thoroughly as part of the confirmation process. His close connection to Vladimir Putin and the Russian government raises serious questions at a time when our national intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia engaged in cyber espionage against the United States during the 2016 Presidential election. Further, the documented efforts by ExxonMobil to fund organizations denying climate science during Tillerson’s tenure at the company deserve critical attention as Virginia grapples with sea level rise in Hampton Roads and other climate driven issues.”
On Twitter, Kaine also said that this appointment was the equivalent of appointing someone that doesn’t believe in climate change to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, something that Trump also did.
Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts)
Finally, the last Democratic member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, who previously served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Markey released a statement on Tuesday criticizing Trump’s nomination of Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt and Rex Tillerson, calling them the “Big Oil All-Stars.”
Speaking specifically on Tillerson, Markey said that “ExxonMobil’s global drilling interests, especially in Russia and the Ukraine, raise serious questions about conflicts of interest for Mr. Tillerson. Donald Trump doesn’t want to drain the swamp, he wants to drill in it.”
Tillerson went on to say that “The Trump administration should expect a fight on all of these nominations.”