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Trump to tap Tillerson for secretary of state

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is widely viewed as Donald Trump’s most likely choice. | Getty

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President-Elect Donald Trump plans to announce ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his choice to be secretary of state on Tuesday, according to multiple people familiar with the matter, setting up a contentious confirmation battle over the nation’s top diplomat.

Tillerson is likely to face extensive questions on Capitol Hill, as a number of prominent Republicans have already voiced concerns about his close ties to Russia and its strongman president, Vladimir Putin. He has no formal government experience, but spent years running ExxonMobil’s extensive international operations.

Should Tillerson not win confirmation, it would be an early setback for Trump’s presidency. A Cabinet nominee hasn’t been rejected by the Senate since 1989, and Trump will need Republicans to coalesce around Tillerson.

Yet Trump seemed undeterred by the pushback, trusting his gut and choosing another nominee with significant business experience.

“He’s a world-class player,” Trump said on Fox News Sunday. “He’s in charge of an oil company that’s pretty much double the size of its next nearest competitor.”

Tillerson, 64, has worked at Exxon for more than 40 years, climbing up the ranks from an engineer to become the CEO and travel the globe. He has made a number of large deals, including the purchase of XTO Energy in 2009.

Yet how he would approach the job of America’s top diplomat is unclear. In one of his few foreign policy comments, he said at a 2014 shareholder meeting that he was generally opposed to sanctions. He has often wrangled with foreign governments as the company grew its international drilling business.

Tillerson has over the years negotiated major business deals with Russia and was awarded the “Order of Friendship” by Putin in 2013. He turned heads a year later when he spoke at an energy summit in Moscow alongside Igor Sechin, a Russian oil executive and close Putin ally facing Treasury Department sanctions.

As he has emerged as Trump’s likely pick, senators have voiced varying levels of concern about Tillerson’s warm relationship with the Kremlin.

“When he gets the friendship award from a butcher, frankly, it’s an issue that I think needs to be examined. And again, that does not mean we should prejudge Mr. Tillerson,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said on Fox News.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed concerns.

Trump’s allies and aides continued to defend Tillerson, citing his business record and history of negotiating massive energy deals. He was recommended by Bob Gates and Condoleezza Rice, among others, Trump aides say, noting that he has respect in the diplomatic community. Rice and Gates have both done work for Exxon through their consulting firm.

“It’s not like Vladimir Putin and Rex Tillerson are pounding down vodka at the local bar,” top aide Kellyanne Conway said on CBS. “They’re not intimate friends, but they deal with each other through business interests.”

Tillerson, who was due to reach Exxon’s mandatory retirement age of 65 in March, would be the latest wealthy individual to join Trump’s Cabinet: He was paid $ 27.3 million last year and owns shares in Exxon worth nearly $ 240 million.

He likely faces wall-to-wall opposition among Democrats and environmentalist groups, who are expected to use the opportunity to grill Tillerson about ExxonMobil’s handling of climate change.

Tillerson’s confirmation battle could be further complicated by a sharp dispute over Russia’s involvement in the election, with CIA officials saying Russia tried to help Trump win. The president-elect has called those charges “ridiculous,” but lawmakers of both parties are calling for an investigation.

Tuesday’s announcement would cap a topsy-turvy process that Trump has often seemed to enjoy. The president-elect paraded a number of luminaries through his properties, interviewing 2012 nominee Mitt Romney and Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Both men said they coveted the job.

Romney, who not only opposed Trump during the Republican primary but also savaged him in a March speech as unfit for the presidency, went through an unusually public audition process that culminated in a Nov. 29 dinner with Trump and incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.

Afterwards, Romney told reporters he was heartened by the conversation, and said they had a “wonderful evening” discussing world affairs. “These discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging,” he said.

The 2012 Republican nominee even praised Trump for accomplishing something he could not: “He won.”

On Sunday, Roger Stone, Trump’s longtime friend and informal adviser, claimed during an appearance on Alex Jones’ radio show that the president-elect had allowed Romney to believe he might get the job just to “torture” him.

“Donald Trump was interviewing Mitt Romney for secretary of state in order to torture him,” Stone said. “To toy with him. And given the history, that’s completely understandable. Mitt Romney crossed a line. He didn’t just oppose Trump, which is his democratic right, he called him a phony and a fraud. And a con man. And that’s not the kind of man you want as secretary of state.”

Giuliani eventually said he dropped out because he was a “distraction.”

On Monday night, Romney posted on Facebook that he was honored to have been considered.

“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening,” he wrote. “I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.”

Alex Isendstdt, Ken Vogel, Andrew Restuccia and Shane Goldmacher contributed.

Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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