Rex Tillerson will be President-elect Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State. As head of Exxon-Mobil, Tillerson has ties with Russia and a good relationship with Vladimir Putin, who awarded him the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship in 2012.
On the other hand, Tillerson reportedly has the support of Condoleezza Rice and former vice president Cheney. They must believe he will not be soft of Russia.
Nonetheless, Senators like John McCain and Marco Rubio are right to raise that concern, especially given some of the things candidate Trump had to say about Putin. It’s a concern that Tillerson will have to allay. Until he has a chance to do so, judgment should be reserved.
Many, including us, have noted the Democrats’ hypocrisy in complaining about Trump’s position on Russia. It was the Dems, after all, who gave us the Russian reset and who responded so weakly to Putin’s aggression in Syria and Ukraine.
However, the hypocrisy argument doesn’t factor in heavily when it comes to Tillerson’s nomination. For one thing, the Democrats’ Russia policy came from the Executive branch, not Congress, and the Senate confirmed Hillary Clinton pre-reset. Unless a particular Democratic Senator defended Obama-Clinton policy on Russia, and did so after Putin’s adventures in Ukraine or Syria, a charge of hypocrisy against that Senator probably won’t stick.
In addition, the focus of the Democrats’ attack on Tillerson will probably be the environment. They consider “climate change” to be a core part of the Secretary of State’s portfolio.
Tillerson has said he believes climate change is real, and he has supported a revenue-neutral carbon tax of more than $20 a ton, according to the Washington Post. But given his position at Exxon-Mobil, this may not be enough to satisfy Democrats.
If 48 Democratic Senators oppose Tillerson citing climate change and three Republican Senators oppose him citing Russia, the nomination will fail.
Finally, the real issue here isn’t hypocrisy, it’s whether Tillerson should be Secretary of State. If he has the wrong line on Russia he shouldn’t be.
Trump can say, as President Obama did, “I won” and should have my picks confirmed. But Senators McCain and Rubio also won in November. Indeed, all (or virtually all) members of the Senate won their Senate race (I don’t think any current Senators were appointed). They all get a say.
It was legitimate (and I think correct) to oppose Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense due to serious concerns about his views on Israel, even though they comported with Obama’s. It was legitimate (and I think correct) to oppose Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor due to serious concerns about his views in favor of racial quota, even though they comported with Obama’s.
It will be legitimate for Democrats to oppose Jeff Sessions for Attorney General due to their strong disagreement with many of his positions. The problem will be attempts to accuse Sessions of bigotry when the real issue is policy disagreement.
In the case of Tillerson, Republican Senators need to satisfy themselves that there are no serious concerns about his views on, and his relationship with, Putin. If Senators like McCain, Graham, and Rubio aren’t satisfied, it would be hypocritical of them to vote to confirm.