Rubio, McCain Skeptical Of Tillerson As Top Diplomat


After an unusually public and drawn-out interview process, Donald Trump has settled on his choice for secretary of state -- but a few powerful GOP senators have joined Democrats in expressing skepticism about the pick.

The president-elect chose Exxon-Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson for the role of America's top diplomat after considering former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former presidential candidate -- and major Trump critic -- Mitt Romney, and a handful of others.

Supporters lauded Tillerson's leadership qualities and his experience as CEO of a major multinational corporation -- a job that required him to become familiar with the politics and major power players in dozens of nations around the world. That experience, supporters said, would give Tillerson an advantage that other candidates for the job didn't necessarily have.

But GOP senators John McCain, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham say they aren't sold on him, for various reasons. The retiring CEO may present some of the same conflict-of-interest problems plaguing his potential boss, they argued, citing his admittedly close relationship with Russia and its controversial president, Vladimir Putin.

In 2013, Tillerson received the Russian "Order of Friendship" award, recognizing his dealings with the country and in particular his cooperation in a drilling deal with with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft, the Washington Post reported.

It's an award that puts him in the company of sports figures, like former Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt, also the former coach of the Russian national team; musicians, like pianist Van Cliburn, who was recognized in 2004; and curators, like Museum of Russian Art founder Raymond E. Johnson.

Despite the fact that the Order of Friendship has been awarded in non-political circumstances -- and was established by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin long before Putin was the country's leader -- McCain said he "would never accept an award from Vladimir Putin."

The Arizona senator and former presidential nominee has never seen eye-to-eye with Trump on foreign policy issues, and as CNN notes, has called Putin "a thug, a murderer, and a killer."

Accepting the Order of Friendship award "legitimizes Vladimir Putin," McCain said.

Tillerson's relationship with Russia -- and his apparent opposition to sanctions levied after the invasion of Ukraine -- "concerns me a great deal," McCain said during a Dec. 13 radio interview, CNN reported.

Rubio said he has "serious concerns" about Tillerson's nomination, in a statement issued on Dec. 13.

“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," the Florida senator wrote.

Rubio said he'll give Tillerson "a full and fair but also thorough hearing" before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sources: Politico, Washington Post, CNN / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

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