Could The Senate Stop Rex Tillerson Being Secretary of State? Confirmations Now Need A Smaller Margin
He hasn't even officially been named as president-elect Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, but already the name Rex Tillerson has dominated the Sunday morning news programs. And, yes, he's also graced the Twitter page of none other than Trump himself. Tillerson is currently the CEO of ExxonMobil, and his appointment to head the State Department has politicians in Washington, Republicans included, worried given his deep ties to Russia and the Kremlin. In addition to the huge deals he's negotiated there, he was awarded the country's Order of Friendship. So, could the Senate deny Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State?
First off, it's really to early to have this discussion since Tillerson is technically just in the running (he's Trump's favorite at the moment). But if and when Trump names him his pick for Secretary of State, it will be up to the Senate to confirm him, and yes, they could vote him down. It will be rather hard, though, for his opponents to prevent his confirmation — or that of any of Trump's picks.
That's thanks to rule changes by the Democrats made to combat Republican obstructionism in judicial appointments. It will require just a simple majority of 51 votes in favor to confirm Tillerson and the other potential Trump Cabinet members. This means that Republicans could have two votes flip and a Trump nominee would still be confirmed thanks to vice president-elect Mike Pence's vote. Republicans will hold 52 seats in the body come January.
In the past 60 votes were needed to confirm, and still, very few Cabinet appointments have been rejected. The last time this happened was in 1989. Former Sen. John Tower was nominated by George H.W. Bush as defense secretary, and was hurt by a rough campaign that included accusations of conflicts of interest. Tower had harsh words as it finished. "No public figure in my memory has been subjected to such a far-reaching and thorough investigation, nor had his human foibles bared to such intensive and demeaning public scrutiny," he said.
The real question then is whether the debate will reach such lows this go around. Tillerson has been questioned almost exclusively on his connections to Russia and its leaders — not his "human foibles." Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted that he didn't approve of "friends of Vladimir" and Sen. John McCain expressed concern in a CBS interview. He told the network, "It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. That would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat."
Those are pretty harsh words from fellow Republicans, but neither have said explicitly they will vote against Tillerson. They would need at least one other GOP member of the Senate to vote with them, all Democrats, and both independents to block the confirmation. That's possible, but even more likely is that the Trump team would change their mind and his name would be withdrawn.
Given the reaction thus far, Tillerson is probably the most likely to be rejected among all of Trump's Cabinet picks — but I wouldn't hold my breath.