BREAKING: Senate confirms Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Washington Times, Guy Taylor, February 1, 2017
FILE – In this Jan. 11, 2017, file photo, Secretary of State-nominee Rex Tillerson testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington. Trump’s nomination of Tillerson for secretary of state is headed toward Senate confirmation after several Democrats crossed party lines . . . .
The Senate voted Wednesday afternoon to confirm Rex Tillerson as the nation’s 69th secretary of state, officially making the former ExxonMobil CEO America’s top diplomat and chief foreign policy advisor to President Trump.
In a 56-43 vote, Republicans picked up three Democratic votes to pierce the minority’s hoped-for united front against Mr. Trump’s unconventional nominee: Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark R. Warner of Virginia, all of whom face re-election next year. Democratic-leaning independent Sen. Angus S. King Jr. of Maine also voted to advance Mr. Tillerson’s nomination.
Mr. Tillerson, who had an extended lunch meeting with Mr. Trump Wednesday afternoon, was expected to be sworn in during a private ceremony later in the day. Officials said he is unlikely to appear in person at State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom before Friday.
Officials said Mr. Tillerson, who had an extended lunch meeting with Mr. Trump Wednesday afternoon, would be sworn in during a private ceremony. He is not expected to appear at State Department headquarters in Foggy Bottom until Thursday or Friday.
Once the swearing in formalities are taken care of, the new secretary of state will be confronted quickly by a slate of delicate issues.
In addition to an already turbulent landscape of foreign policy challenges — from the North Korean nuclear threat to Syria’s civil war, Russian meddling in Ukraine and the international battle against the Islamic State — Mr. Tillerson arrival at Foggy Bottom coincides deep hand-wringing over Mr. Trump’s recent executive order relating to the so-called “extreme vetting” of Muslims trying to enter the U.S.
Recent days brought reports that hundreds of U.S. diplomats and State Department rank and file have signed a scathing dissent memorandum criticizing the order Mr. Trump signed Friday to suspend all refugee access to the U.S. and temporarily halt visas to citizens of seven majority Muslim nations, including Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.
“We are better than this,” said the memo, which was submitted as a cable into the State Department’s infamous “dissent channel” and leaked to reporters.
The White House response to those who signed the memo has been confrontational, with administration spokesman Sean Spicer asserting Monday that they “should either get with the program or they can go.”
The new secretary of state will face the immediate and delicate task of trying win back their loyalty and restore morale at the department.
Mr. Tillerson was noncommittal on the visa and refugee issue during his nomination hearing last month. While he voiced apprehension toward Mr. Trump’s campaign trail calls for a ban on “all Muslims” entering the U.S., he also said he might be open to the creation of some kind of registry of Muslims living in the country.
During the hearing, Mr. Tillerson also faced scrutiny over close relationships he built with high-level Russian officials as head of ExxonMobil — he was CEO from 2006 through 2016 — and the extent to which those relationships may influence his view of economic sanctions designed to contain Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine.
Mr. Tillerson was generally elusive on sanctions and Russia. He spoke out against the use of economic penalties as a foreign policy tool. But he also condemned suspected interference by Russia in the U.S. presidential election, and said he believed Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula was illegal and worthy of a muscular response from Washington.
Another issue that drew scrutiny during the hearing was Mr. Tillerson view on climate change and the extent to which he hopes to change or renounce the 2015 global Paris Climate Accord that former Secretary of State John F. Kerry fought for in recent years.
Mr. Tillerson said he believes “the risk of climate change does exist” and “the consequences of it could be serious enough that action should be taken.” While he said the “type of action seems to be where the largest areas of debate exist,” he added that it’s “important to recognize the U.S. had done a pretty good job.”