Login ID:
Partner Login
Contact Us : 7066511911

Rubio Vote Key for Tillerson -- WSJ

14 Jan 2017 7:32 am
By Byron Tau 

WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has become the central figure in the Senate confirmation drama over President-elect Donald Trump's choice to lead the State Department, emerging as the key vote on confirming Rex Tillerson to the nation's top diplomatic post.

A trio of Republican senators have expressed deep reservations about Mr. Tillerson, the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive. In addition to Mr. Rubio of Florida, they are Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The three have raised concerns about Mr. Tillerson's personal and business relationships with senior figures in the Russian government, an especially sensitive topic due to the U.S. intelligence assessment that the Kremlin interfered with the nation's presidential election.

All three remain undecided on whether to support Mr. Tillerson after a marathon, eight-hour hearing with the former CEO on Capitol Hill this week.

But no senator is more critical to Mr. Tillerson's fate than Mr. Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, which will vote on whether to support the nomination. Republicans have a one-vote advantage on the panel, meaning that Mr. Rubio may be crucial to moving Mr. Tillerson's nomination to the floor with a recommendation that he be confirmed for the job.

Mr. Rubio has remained tight-lipped about his intentions. He has said he has additional questions for Mr. Tillerson as part of the vetting process and would withhold comment until he has come to a decision.

"We're just going to continue to go through the process, and we'll make a decision soon," said Mr. Rubio on Capitol Hill this week after the confirmation hearing.

A committee vote on Mr. Tillerson's nomination could come as soon as next week. Messrs. Graham and McCain also say that they are withholding judgment, but that they are concerned about Mr. Tillerson's views on Russia and the broader direction of the Trump administration's proposed detente with Moscow. Mr. Trump has proposed improving relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a stance that is at odds with many Republicans in Congress.

In a television appearance this week, Mr. Graham said the Tillerson nomination was "salvageable," with the potential to win his vote. "I just still haven't made up my mind," Mr. McCain told reporters. The senator has said he is concerned about Mr. Tillerson's relationships with senior members of the Russian government.

Mr. Rubio subjected Mr. Tillerson to several rounds of withering questioning, with a special focus on the issue of Russia, economic sanctions and human rights. In one exchange, Mr. Rubio asked whether Mr. Putin was a war criminal, citing the Russian military's actions in Syria as the reason for the question.

Mr. Tillerson demurred, saying: "Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want to have much more information before reaching a conclusion."

There is enormous pressure within the Senate Republican caucus to start the Trump administration with a series of smooth confirmation hearings and votes. But Republicans have a thin margin for error, holding 52 out of 100 seats in the Senate.

GOP leaders have signaled that the confirmation of Mr. Tillerson, as well as all of Mr. Trump's other nominees, is a top priority. No cabinet nominee has been rejected by the Senate since 1989, though several have withdrawn.

Mr. Rubio's willingness to withhold his support comes is an indication that he has more room for political independence. "I think in his view he's doing what the Senate is supposed to do -- to provide advice and consent on presidential nominees," said Ryan Williams, a Republican strategist who expects Mr. Tillerson to be ultimately confirmed.

"He's just been re-elected, with six years in front of him in the Senate, " said Mr. Williams. "I think he feels liberated to approach decisions in his second term without the same political considerations. He's liberated to do what he thinks is the right thing without having to think about running for president or for re-election."

Many Democrats have spoken out about their concerns about Mr. Tillerson, though it is possible he will draw some Democratic support in the final vote tally. He could also win Democratic support in the committee, offsetting the potential loss of Mr. Rubio's vote.

"I will oppose the nomination of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. He has a notable record of business success and a laudable commitment to civic affairs. But he did not demonstrate the awareness, judgment or independence I expect from our nation's chief diplomat," said Sen. Tim Kaine (D., Va.), who also sits on the Foreign Relations panel.

A committee decision not to approve Mr. Tillerson wouldn't block his nomination from moving to the Senate floor, though such a development is rare. Another possible pathway is that Senate Republican leadership could bypass the committee entirely and bring Mr. Tillerson directly to the floor -- another extremely rare procedural maneuver that nevertheless remains available to Senate leadership.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 14, 2017 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Top 5 Special Reports
USD/INR (Jul ‘20) – Inflection Point: Retesting Resista...
CRB Index & U.S. Dollar Index