Trump taps Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

By Autumn Pattison 12/13/16

President-elect Donald Trump’s unconventional pick for Secretary of State is set to cause controversy in the Senate. The 64 year old energy mogul has no formal foreign policy experience, but the statement released by Trump’s team Tuesday said that Tillerson has a “broad understanding of geopolitics,” and has built close relationships with many world leaders during his time as CEO at ExxonMobil.

Sources close to Trump have said the two men share similar business backgrounds and views of the world, creating a sense of comfort for the President-elect. Tillerson’s skills regarding complex negotiations and geopolitical conflicts may aid him in running the State Department, but many prominent Senators are prepared to put up a fight against Tillerson’s appointment. Notable Republicans including John McCain and Marco Rubio are worried about the oil giant’s ties to Russia. “It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Sunday on CBS, noting that the two men had done “enormous deals” together. McCain worries that this relationship “would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat.”

McCain and many other senators are worried that Trump and Tillerson will work together to guide US policy more in line with Russia’s. Washington and Russia are locked in a tense confrontation, as characterized by the likes of Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. In an interview with Foreign Affairs last month, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, noted that Russia is “clearly trying to re-establish a sphere of influence in the gray states that sit between the Russian Federation and NATO,” and having US support would aid them greatly.

It is unclear how much influence Tillerson will have, because in order to be appointed, he must have a successful confirmation hearing with the Senate. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has expressed concerns, and promised on Tuesday he would “do my part to ensure he receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

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