Republicans have had a muted reaction to Donald Trump’s decision to nominate Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson his Secretary of State. Because of Tillerson’s long friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, some in the GOP are wary about him presiding over U.S. foreign policy. Sen. John McCain, who appears ready to declare himself an all-out adversary of Donald Trump, said he wasn’t impressed with anyone who called Putin a friend.
“Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully, and a murderer and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying,” McCain said.
Sen. Marco Rubio seemed to be on the same page. On Twitter, Rubio said, “Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a Secretary of State.”
If there are more Republicans who feel as they do – even one more – then Tillerson’s nomination will likely fail to pass a confirmation hearing. The question then becomes if the GOP leadership wants to make this the hill to die on. Or are they eager to give Trump some breathing space and avoid the wrath of his supporters, not all of whom (any of whom?) are particularly thrilled with the Republican Party?
It remains to be seen whether there is any solid validity to the intelligence saying Russia was trying to get Trump elected, but Congress certainly has no choice but to investigate. That said, Putin’s manipulations should have no bearing on Tillerson’s confirmation. This is a man who not only has a distinguished career at Exxon but an extraordinary resume that took him around the world and back – the right kind of experience for the State Department. Furthermore, he came to Trump with endorsements from Republicans like Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates.
No doubt, Tillerson will enter the State Department with a different agenda vis-a-vis Russia than John Kerry. He has argued against U.S. economic sanctions in Moscow, which already puts him at odds with most of the Republican Party, to say nothing of the Obama administration. His concerns are rooted in Exxon’s interests, but Trump has been just as vehement about pushing the reset button with Putin. Perhaps this time we can get it right.
But it won’t be easy. Republicans like Rubio, McCain, and Lindsey Graham are dead-set against anything that might be seen as appeasement, and Trump is going to have an uphill battle to climb even if this hacking story goes away.