Skip to content

Trump Picks Tillerson For Secretary of State

Concerns arise about ties to Vladimir Putin

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of State. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump for secretary of State. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call file photo)

President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team early Tuesday announced that he would nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as his secretary of State.

“His tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for Secretary of State,” Trump said in the announcement. “He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States.”

Trump followed up shortly after with a tweet, calling Tillerson “one of the truly great business leaders of the world” and lauded his experience working with foreign governments.

Tillerson has served as chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil since 2006 and is a native of Texas.

Trump’s consideration of Tillerson was criticized before the announcement because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, including from hawkish Republican like Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio released a statement after the announcement Tuesday morning reiterating his position.

“While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination,” Rubio said. “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. I look forward to learning more about his record and his views.‎ I will do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Similarly, Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, expressed skepticism about the nomination on Fox News on Saturday.

“You want to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt because of the people have spoken,” McCain said. “But Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had doubts whether Tillerson could make it through the confirmation process.

”I don’t know if he can get 50 votes or not,’ Reid told CNN on Monday. “I think it may be a little hard for him to do that.”

“I have nothing against Tillerson, I know him, I know nothing about his Russian connections,” Reid said, adding that Tillerson’s ties to Russia were “in keeping with Trump — he’s already stated he likes Putin better than he likes Obama, so it’s obvious he likes Russia and that’s fairly concerning to the world, it’s concerning to Americans, it’s concerning to me.”

Sen. Ben Cardin, the ranking Democrat on the committee, expressed skepticism about Tillerson’s capacity to serve as an effective diplomat alongside his concern about Tillerson’s views about Russia.

“Mr. Tillerson has demonstrated he knows the corporate world and can put his shareholders’ interests first, but can he be a respected Secretary of State that puts the national security interests of the American people first,” Cardin said. “It remains to be seen.”

The announcement comes after a drawn-out process that saw names as diverse as 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and former CIA Director David Petraeus tossed about as possibilities.

On Monday Night, Romney announced on his Facebook page that he was out of the running.

“It was an honor to have been considered for Secretary of State of our great country,” he wrote.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was also in the running and thanked Trump for informing him about the selection of Tillerson.


“I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with the President-elect and his team throughout this process and appreciate the deliberate manner in which he arrived at this decision,” said Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Reaction to the official announcement continued to trickle out of Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon as leading Republicans and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began to respond to the news. 

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley didn’t initially indicate whether he would support Tillerson’s nomination, but he did have a warning for the Secretary of State nominee and the president-elect.

In a tweet, Grassley pointed Tillerson and Trump toward a Wall Street Journal column detailing the unseemly fate of some of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s political enemies. 

Conversely, Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, expressed support for Tillerson’s nomination, citing the ExxonMobil’s CEO’s international business experience. 

“Rex Tillerson’s decades of experience have been widely recognized for forward-looking strategic planning, managing international partnerships and risk, and focused leadership around the world,” McConnell said in a statement.

“We need a full review of our national security policy, and I know Rex will face each problem head on with American interests and security as his top priority,” McConnell added. “I look forward to supporting his nomination.”

Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, normally a Trump critic, expressed possible willingness to support Trump’s decision. 

“The fact that former Secretaries of State James Baker, Condoleezza Rice, and Robert Gates are recommending Mr. Tillerson carries considerable weight,” Flake said. 

Democratic New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raised concerns of Tillerson’s possible conflicts of interest abroad. 

“I have deep concerns about Rex Tillerson’s candidacy that are shared on both sides of the aisle, and I intend to review his record thoroughly during the confirmation process,” Shaheen said in a statement. “But let me be clear: I will not support any candidate who would undermine NATO, our international agreements to combat climate change, or our efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.”

Shaheen’s colleague on Foreign Relations, Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, also voiced his unease. Murphy, Connecticut’s junior Senator, tweeted a series of criticisms focusing on Tillerson’s career in the oil and gas industry. 

Minority Leader-elect, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, echoed the concerns of his Democratic colleagues. 

“While Mr. Tillerson’s worldview may not seem to be as dangerously interventionist as Mr. Bolton’s or others’, that does not absolve him from being asked the most serious questions about his relationship with Russia, his disturbing opposition to sanctions on Russia, the Paris climate agreement, and how he views Putin,” Schumer said in a statement.

“Given these serious concerns, the members of the Foreign Relations Committee, both Democrat and Republican, should be given ample time to study Mr. Tillerson’s entire record and worldview and then ask several rounds of extensive questions.”