After weeks of speculation that centered around names like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, and Mitt Romney, Donald Trump’s ultimate choice for Secretary of State comes from the private sector. On Tuesday, Trump chose Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil to lead the State Department, drawing the usual round of jeers from angry Democrats.
On Tillerson, they are not only angry about his pedigree in Big Oil but his relationship with Vladimir Putin, which has been described as “cozy.” On the latter concern, they are joined by a handful of Republican lawmakers who are wary about Trump’s own comments on Russia. Over the last few days, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham have all said they support a full congressional inquiry into Moscow’s election interference. On this, they are putting daylight between themselves and Trump, who has dismissed Russian involvement as a “ridiculous” CIA theory.
That conspires to make Tillerson one of Trump’s most controversial appointments yet, a drama that promises to play itself out in the confirmation hearings next month. In those hearings, Democrats are bound to focus on Exxon’s joint drilling contracts with Moscow – a $500 billion deal that was put on hold when the U.S. slapped Russia with economic sanctions. They will want to create doubt in the public’s minds as to Tillerson’s foreign policy motivations.
That won’t be tough to do, since Trump has made his own position on Russian relations clear since the early days of the campaign. Trump has spoken out often in favor of getting along with Putin, putting him at odds with many in the Republican establishment. With the Obama administration getting more and more direct in their accusations against Putin, the possibility of a massive intragovernment explosion is not out of the question.
If chaos erupts, Tillerson’s nomination will be a big part of the drama.
That said, it’s important to take a step back and breathe. Tillerson isn’t some shill for Moscow. He came with the highest of recommendations from Republicans like Condoleeza Rice, a woman who isn’t about to put her name on the line for a Russian sympathizer. Furthermore, Tillerson’s record at Exxon is distinguished, to say the least. This country is sorely lacking in leaders who have proven, private-sector success, and Tillerson is a step in the right direction, much like Trump’s other cabinet appointments.
Trump shows every sign of putting into place a radical, pro-American agenda. Naturally, they are going to do everything they can to stop him.