Exxon Mobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson has been nominated for secretary of state, but he'll likely face a tough Senate confirmation because of his global connections to foreign leaders based on oil deals, including Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"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," President-elect Donald Trump said in a statement after he announced Tillerson's nomination, reported Bloomberg.
The Wall Street Journal reported, however, that “Friends and associates said few US citizens are closer to Mr Putin than Mr Tillerson,” according to the Guardian.
And in the current political climate, in which Russia is blamed for Hillary Clinton's stunning loss to Trump, that proven ability to make deals with foreign leaders isn't seen as a positive.
“Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState.” tweeted Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Opponents are worried that Tillerson, who has spent his entire career at Exxon Mobil and never worked in the public sector, might approach the job as a businessman rather than a public servant, especially since the U.S. and European Union are currently imposing billions of dollars worth of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine, which also affects Exxon Mobil profits.
“The chances that he will view Russia with Exxon Mobil DNA are close to 100 percent,” Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a public interest group based in Washington, told the New York Times.
However, that business-minded approach is seen as a positive for others, including Carter Page, an oil industry consultant who served as Trump's foreign policy adviser during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“What makes me excited about new possibilities is the chance to really work on new things to improve more from a business standpoint,” Page said at a news conference, according to the New York Times.
In a statement, Tillerson said he would put his country first in his decisions as secretary of state.
“We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States," Tillerson said, according to Bloomberg.