Posted: 11:02 am PT
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On December 13, President-elect Trump announced his intent to nominate Rex Tillerson, the Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, to serve as Secretary of State. Below is the Trump Transition statement:
Among the most accomplished business leaders and international dealmakers in the world, Mr. Tillerson has spent his career protecting the jobs of his employees, who number more than 70,000. Guiding operations around the world that include more than 200 offices, Mr. Tillerson knows how to manage a global organization and successfully navigate the complex architecture of world affairs and diverse foreign leaders. As Secretary of State, he will be a forceful and clear-eyed advocate for America’s vital national interests, and help reverse years of misguided foreign policies and actions that have weakened America’s security and standing in the world. The American people will once again have a world-class leader working on their behalf, enhancing the prospects for peace and prosperity among nations.
“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies,” said President-elect Donald J. Trump. “His 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. 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. I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated, to serve as Secretary of State at this critical time in our history.”
“I am honored by President-elect Trump’s nomination and share his vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security,” said Mr. Tillerson. “We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States.”
Rex Tillerson is a native Texan who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. He began his career at Exxon Company, U.S.A. in 1975 as a production engineer.
After years of hard work and dedication to his company, Rex then became general manager of Exxon Company, U.S.A.’s central production division, responsible for oil and gas production operations throughout a large portion of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas.
In 1992, Mr. Tillerson was named production advisor to Exxon Corporation. Three years later he was named president of Exxon Yemen Inc. and Esso Exploration and Production Khorat Inc., and in January 1998, he was promoted to vice president of Exxon Ventures (CIS) Inc. and president of Exxon Neftegas Limited. In those roles, he was responsible for Exxon’s holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea as well as the Sakhalin I consortium operations offshore Sakhalin Island, Russia.
In December 1999, he became executive vice president of Exxon Mobil Development Company. Mr. Tillerson was then named senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corporation in August 2001, and was elected president of the corporation and member of the board of directors on March 1, 2004. Nearly two years after he was elected, Mr. Tillerson was named as chairman and CEO of the board on January 1, 2006.
Mr. Tillerson is not only a stalwart in his professional life, but also in the community. He is a member of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and a trustee of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is the vice chairman of the Ford’s Theatre Society and a recipient of the Lincoln Medal; immediate past national president of the Boy Scouts of America, a Distinguished Eagle Scout, and a former director of the United Negro College Fund. He was recognized as a distinguished alumnus of the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, and in 2013, was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.
The Senate Foreign Relation Committee is a GOP 10/Dem 9 split, the full Senate is a 52 GOP/48 Dem split. A senator can put a hold on a nomination. If two GOP Senators flip, VP Pence can cast the deciding vote and still confirm the nominee. Since a simple majority is all that’s needed, three GOP Senators could also flip and sink this nomination. A nomination can also be killed in committee, but that does not look likely here. The SFRC Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN)who was on Trump’s short-list for Secretary of State has said that Tillerson is “a very impressive individual.” After the selection was announced, Senator Corker tweeted, “I congratulate Mr. Tillerson on his nomination and look forward to meeting with him and chairing his confirmation hearing.” We suspect that the confirmation hearing would occur the day after the Trump inauguration.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) who sits in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) and who says “I am a no on John Bolton…” reportedly told a radio show that he is “reserving judgment” on the Tillerson nomination. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who also sits in the SFRC tweeted “The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker and Bob Gates are recommending Tillerson carries considerable weight. I look forward to the hearings.” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), also an SFRC member said, “While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination.” He released a statement here: .
There are “concerns” but no hard “no” at this time. It doesn’t hurt that former Secretary of State Condi Rice, and former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates of RiceHadleyGates have great things to say about the nominee.
According to the Constitution Center, there were five presidential cabinet nominations that were rejected by the Senate. The last two occurred within the last sixty years — one in 1959 for the commerce secretary nomination and the second one in 1989 for the defense secretary nomination:
In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Admiral Lewis Strauss as commerce secretary. The Democrats controlled more than 60 Senate seats and Strauss lost in a contentious nomination process by just four votes.
The fight between the Senate and its former member, John Tower, in 1989 was historic in many ways. Tower had headed the Senate Armed Services Committee until he retired in 1985. President Bush had nominated Tower as defense secretary.
The public debate over Tower’s nomination included a lot of mudslinging, and Tower lost the vote along party lines in the Democrat-controlled Senate. He was the only former Senate member rejected for a cabinet position by the Senate in its history. Dick Cheney was later approved in Tower’s place.
For Senators contemplating sinking the Tillerson nomination, the next question to ask might be, “then what?” Could Trump’s next move after a Tillerson rejection be the nomination of John Bolton as Secretary of State? That is totally possible. And after sinking one cabinet nomination, it is conceivable that a GOP Senate would not want another contentious confirmation. Rejecting the Tillerson nomination would almost assure the confirmation of John Bolton or whoever Trump puts forward in response.
The Financial Times’ Ed Crooks said that conventional wisdom has tagged Rex as “pro-Russia” but that it is probably more accurate to say he’s been pro-Exxon. Well, his responsibilities were to the Exxon shareholders. Tillerson was once asked by Charlie Rose: “… whether it’s Alaska or offshore or wherever it might be, is your philosophy “drill, baby, drill”? Here is Tillerson’s response talking about opportunities and risks:
No, my philosophy is to make money. And so if I can drill, and make money, then that’s what I want to do. But it really is for us it’s about making quality investments for our shareholders. And it’s not a quality investment if you cannot manage the risk around it. And so part of that decision to undertake whether it’s a drilling program or an investment program in some other country, we have to have a very good understanding of what risk are we dealing with, how are we going to manage those. Because you may have a fabulous opportunity but if you manage the risk poorly, you’ve cost yourself not only that opportunity but you’ve probably cost yourself a lot of others.
The bigger question probably is what happens to Tillerson’s huge financial interest in Exxon if he gets confirmed as Secretary of State. This is something the Senators should be interested in. Of course, they were also interested with conflict of interest or the appearance of it related to the Clinton Foundation leading to then Senator Clinton’s confirmation in 2009 and they voted 94-2.