Senators have their doubts about Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state.
He was far too hesitant to condemn human rights abuses in Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines. He claimed, untruthfully, that Exxon had never lobbied against sanctions on Russia when he was its CEO. And he displayed a troubling lack of responsiveness at times, calling into question his commitment to accountability and transparency with Congress and the press.
Nonetheless, there is a deeper concern that may help Tillerson’s chances of Senate confirmation: the fear that not confirming him would lead to a worse outcome. If the Senate rejects Tillerson, his replacement could be even less palatable. And then Trump, a new president who knows little about the job he is entering, might have no one around who actually knows something about international relations, which Tillerson at least does.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., ended an eight-hour hearing Wednesday by making a lengthy plea for Tillerson skeptics like Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to give Tillerson a chance. The top priority, Corker said, was to make sure that Trump had someone around him who could offset his considerable ignorance of foreign policy.
“This is a very important decision. We have a president-elect who is coming into office also without a great deal of background,” Corker said. “For him to have someone who he has confidence in who’s sitting up under the hood, who’s helping him shape his views, to me is something that is very, very important.”
Later Wednesday, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that he was undecided about supporting Tillerson. He’d liked many Tillerson answers that contradicted some of Trump’s more inflammatory or careless past statements, but worried — like other senators — that Tillerson, rather than being able to execute a principled, strategic foreign policy, would be reduced to irrelevance by Trump’s constantly changing, unpredictable whims.
But Coons’ deeper worry was that if the Senate rejected Tillerson, the next nominee to be America’s top diplomat would be much inferior.
“I have frankly been reflecting on, if not Mr. Tillerson, who else might President-elect Trump choose?” Coons said. “He conducted a sort of ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ review process to come up with a nominee for secretary of state, and he seriously considered Rudy Giuliani and John Bolton.
“And I tried to imagine how they would have fared in today’s confirmation hearings,” Coons said, obviously not enthusiastic about either, or at the idea of them coming before the Senate for a vote.
Corker also implied that Rubio might learn more about Tillerson’s true views on human rights — something Rubio pressed the nominee on repeatedly Wednesday — if he spoke with him away from the TV cameras.
“Give him an opportunity to sit down in front of people and discuss these things, especially in person where the media’s not there,” Corker said.
It was a subtle dig at Rubio’s reputation for grandstanding.
But Rubio, aware that he would be criticized for this very thing, had told Tillerson just a few minutes earlier that he was not trying to involve the former Exxon CEO in “a game of international name-calling.”
Rather, he said, the secretary of state is “the face of this country for billions of people … and particularly, for people that are suffering and they’re hurting.”
“Those 1,400 people in jail in China, those dissidents in Cuba, the girls that want to drive and go to school, they look to the United States,” Rubio said. “And when they see the United States is not prepared to stand up and say, yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, Saudi Arabia violates human rights … it demoralizes these people all over the world.”
Senators continued on Thursday to express consternation about the president-elect and about the ability of his top Cabinet officers to constrain him.
“I continue to hope that the gravity of the office of the president and the magnitude of the challenges that our country faces would encourage him to be more conscientious and thoughtful with his comments. However, in the two months since his election, President-elect Trump has made a number of defense-related policy statements addressing North Korea’s ICBM capability, our trade relations with China and expansion of U.S. nuclear weapons,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said at the confirmation hearing for Trump’s pick for secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis.
Reed told Mattis that many lawmakers supported him “because they believe you will be, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, the saucer that cools the coffee.”
Mattis told Reed: “I would not have taken this job if I didn’t believe the president-elect would also be open to my input.”
Read more from Yahoo News: