The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state, clearing the way for the full Senate to confirm one of President Donald Trump’s most critical cabinet choices.
The 11-10 vote fell along party lines with Democrats in dissent. It came hours after Senator Marco Rubio, who had been the lone Republican withholding his support, said he would back the nomination of the former Exxon Mobil Corp. chief executive officer as the nation’s top diplomat despite concerns over his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his refusal in his nomination hearing to condemn human rights abuses in Russia and the Philippines.
Tillerson’s nomination raised fears from Democrats and Republicans alike for his connections to Putin -- who awarded him his country’s Order of Friendship in 2013 -- and whether he would be able to put U.S. interests first after a 41-year career spent at one of the world’s biggest companies with a financial stake in countries across the globe.
The committee sent Tillerson’s nomination to the full Senate, where united support from majority Republicans all but ensures final approval. Trump has complained about the slow pace of confirmation for his nominees, with only Defense Secretary James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly approved so far. The Senate was expected to confirm Representative Mike Pompeo as head of the Central Intelligence Agency later on Monday.
Democrats who opposed Tillerson’s nomination said they shared Rubio’s concerns on human rights and Russia but were also disturbed by the 64-year-old nominee’s views on climate change. In his nomination hearing, the longtime oil industry leader said that while he believes the threat of climate change requires a global response, he doesn’t see it “as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”
Before the vote on Monday, Democrats also said they were concerned about Tillerson’s statement that he would recuse himself from matters related to Exxon during his first year as secretary and rely on guidance from the State Department’s ethics office after that.
“In the end, I just had too many concerns and questions about the kind of leadership he would provide at the state department to feel comfortable voting for him,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat.