On Wednesday, by a vote of 56-43, the Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. In this role, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobile will be a leading voice on the world stage for President Donald Trump's foreign policy agenda. The 64-year-old Tillerson will be the first secretary of state without any experience serving the U.S. military or government.
From the time Trump announced Tillerson as his pick for one of the most coveted cabinet positions, his nomination has faced controversy because of his close ties to Russia and, in particular, Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader awarded Tillerson the country's Order of Friendship in 2012. The United States' relationship with Russia was increasingly tense in the last days of President Obama's tenure. Amidst accusations and reports from the U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered with the elections, Obama imposed sanctions, expelled 35 Russian diplomats, and shut down two Russian compounds in the United States in late December of 2016.
However, Democrats weren't the only ones who scrutinized Tillerson's relationship with Russia. Florida senator — and Republican presidential nominee hopeful — Marco Rubio voiced concerns shortly after Trump announced Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state. "Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryofState," Rubio tweeted.
Senator John McCain also openly shared his reservations about Tillerson. As late as Jan. 18, McCain said he had not made up his mind on whether he'd support Tillerson, telling CBS News:
I have concerns. And I have had several conversations with him. And he has made a strong case that his job as one of world’s largest corporations is very different from that of our secretary of state. And frankly I have a tendency to believe him. Obviously he’s been a great success in business, but I really would like to see more of this issue of what America stands for.
Ultimately, Rubio and McCain both supported Tillerson's nomination.
During his Senate hearings, Tillerson publicly disagreed with Trump on a number of issues, including climate change. He said, "I came to the decision a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist and the consequences could be serious enough that it warrants action." He added, "The increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect are very limited."
When asked how he'd handle issues on which he and the president disagrees, Tillerson said, "my sense is we're going to have all the views presented [at the] table and everyone will have an opportunity to express those and make the case. And the president decides."
Still, Tillerson's 56-43 confirmation was one of the tightest in recent memory. John Kerry was confirmed as secretary of state by a vote of 94-3 and Hillary Clinton was confirmed by a vote of 94-2. Condoleezza Rice was confirmed 85-13, and Colin Powell was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2001.