Trump formally announces ExxonMobil’s CEO as Secretary of State
(NY Daily News) President-elect Donald Trump formally announced his choice of ExxonMobil’s CEO, Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State Tuesday, defying bipartisan concerns over the oil magnate’s close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and prompting an onslaught of sharp criticism from Democrats, Republicans and environmental groups — and a glowing review from Putin’s aides.
In a formal statement issued by his transition team, Trump lauded his controversial pick as the “embodiment of the American dream,” saying that Tillerson’s “tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State.
“He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States,” Trump said. “Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none.”
But dozens of lawmakers across both parties pounced on the formal news — which had been expected since reports last week indicated Tillerson’s selection was imminent — with Republicans and Democrats alike signaling that the oil magnate is certain to face a brutal confirmation hearing due to a cozy relationship with Putin.
“I have serious concerns about his nomination,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted Tuesday. “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage.”
Previously, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have expressed serious concerns over the pick, too.
Democrats, however, were even more outspoken regarding Tillerson, blasting the businessman not only for his ties to Putin, but over his decades of working on behalf of the world’s largest oil company in Russia and the Middle East, his company’s environmental record and his lacking of any government experience.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted that the selection of Tillerson was “very sad, very dangerous,” while Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) said plainly he was “not qualified to be Secretary of State.”
“Aside from his utter lack of diplomatic experience, Mr. Tillerson’s cozy ties to Vladimir Putin and Russia would represent an untenable conflict at the State Department. Especially in light of mounting evidence that Russia interfered in our election to aid President-elect Trump, it’s unthinkable that Mr. Tillerson should become our top diplomat,” Engel said in a statement.
“How will friend of Putin & recipient of one of Kremlin’s highest honors fight to maintain sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine?” tweeted California Rep. Adam Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat.
Numerous Democratic Senators have already said they will not confirm Tillerson to the post.
Tillerson has spent much his decades-long tenure at ExxonMobil cutting oil and gas deals across the world, including a 2011 contract with Rosneft, Russia’s largest state-owned oil company, for joint exploration and production and 10 other large joint ventures for possible projects in Russia.
He was also honored last year by Putin with the nation’s Order of Friendship and has spoken out against U.S. sanctions on Russia, reportedly visiting the White House at least 20 times throughout President Obama’s tenure to personally lobby against the sanctions, according to a Bloomberg News review of White House visitor logs.
As secretary of state, Tillerson would be tasked with upholding, or rescinding, those very sanctions, imposed on Putin for refusing to withdraw heavy weapons from eastern Ukraine, as well as holding talks with Russia over its controversial support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Problems over his nomination are also likely to arise as a result of ongoing reports, including one from the CIA, proving Russia hacked various systems in the U.S. in an attempt to meddle in the election in Trump’s favor.
His massive company, responsible for massive spills across the world, has also continually attracted the ire of large environmental groups — which again offered full-throated criticism of the CEO on Tuesday.
“Handing over U.S. global policy to Big Oil is an epic mistake. This industry has been near the center of more conflict than any other in modern time; tapping its chief oilman as the nation’s top diplomat sends the wrong message at home and abroad,” National Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh said.
The League of Conservation Voters said in a statement that Tillerson was proof that Trump “is hoping to install the most anti-environmental cabinet in our nation’s history,” while Greenpeace said that “appointing Rex Tillerson to be our chief diplomat is an affront to global progress and will place the US economy, our security, and our standing in the world in the same failing predicament Exxon is in right now.”
The pick, however, also earned praise, including a glowing review from the Kremlin.
Yuri Ushakov, an aide to Putin, touted Tillerson as a “very credible figure” and a “big professional,” according to a translation of Russian media reports, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov praised Tillerson’s “pragmatism.”
A duo of former U.S. presidential cabinet officials lauded Tillerson, too.
Robert Gates, who served as defense secretary under George W. Bush and President Obama, said Tillerson “would bring to the position vast knowledge, experience and success in dealing with dozens of governments and leaders in every corner of the world,” while Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under Bush, said he “will bring to the post remarkable and broad international experience; a deep understanding of the global economy; and a belief in America’s special role in the world.”
Coloring their praise, however, was a report that the consulting firm Gates and Rice work for has Tillerson as one of its clients.
Meanwhile, Trump’s transition team also announced Tuesday that the President-elect had selected former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as his secretary for the Department of Energy, an agency he famously forgot he wanted to cut during his 2012 bid for the White House.
In one of the most remembered moments of the 2012 presidential race, Perry vowed during a GOP primary debate to eliminate altogether several federal agencies, including the Energy Department But when asked for the specific departments he wanted to cut, he couldn’t remember that Energy was one of them.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va), who had been rumored to be a finalist for the energy secretary job and was thought to be under consideration for other posts in the administration, said he would not be taking any such position after the Perry announcement.
“Right now, I believe that I can best serve my state of West Virginia in the United States Senate,” Manchin said in a statement.