Trump's pick for state secretary Rex Tillerson narrowly approved by Senate committee

WION New Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 24, 2017, 02.01 AM(IST)

Chairman of ExxonMobil Board of Directors Rex Tillerson and President, chairman of the company "Rosneft" Igor Sechin (right) and signed an agreement on joint development of difficult reserves in Western Siberia. June 15, 2012. Source: Kremlin. Photograph:( Others )

US President Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil Corp Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson, narrowly won approval from a Senate committee on Monday but is expected to win confirmation from the full Senate.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 to approve Tillerson, with every committee Republican backing Tillerson and every Democrat opposing his nomination. His backing by the committee had been in doubt until earlier on Monday, when Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a committee member, said he planned to back Tillerson.

His confirmation vote in the 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold a 52-seat majority, is not expected before next week.

Rubio said he was troubled by Tillerson's comments during his confirmation hearing regarding Russia as well as other countries, but that he ultimately decided he would vote to approve the nominee in deference to Trump, as well as to fill a critical top job.

Democrats who voted against Tillerson said their concerns included fears that he might move to lift sanctions on Russia, where he did business for years as an Exxon executive, questions about his views on human rights and unhappiness that he would not promise to recuse himself from matters related to Exxon during his entire term as the top US diplomat.

Tillerson said during his hearing that he would recuse himself only for the one year required by law. Tillerson also angered some lawmakers during the hearing by saying he did not know that Exxon Mobil had lobbied against Russian sanctions while he was running the company.

John McCain was among the Republicans who voted for Tillerson. Earlier this week the Republican senator said he was "very cautious" about his decision to vote for Tilerson, but said he was reassured after talking with him about Russia and what his job was as secretary of state, ABC reports.

"Listen, this wasn't an easy call, but I believe when there's doubt, the incoming president gets the benefit of the doubt,"McCain said.

Earlier in January McCain vowed to fight for stronger sanctions against Russia, and appeared to be locked in a war against Trump, as it was he who passed the dossier to FBI director James Comey, alleging Trump has secret contacts with Russia. "He and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals," the dossier claimed. 

It also alleged: "FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him." Putin called this claim a "complete fabrication and utter nonsense".

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee's ranking Democrat, said Tillerson's "business orientation" and responses at his hearing "could compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years."

(With inputs from Reuters)