Ryan’s support technically doesn’t matter, of course, since confirmation is a matter for the Senate, but it’s useful to Trump in building the perception of a unified party behind a controversial nominee. The more the White House can make this a straight-line partisan fight with Democrats, the better Tillerson’s chances are.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) December 13, 2016
Congratulations to Rex Tillerson, a proven leader and person of enormous accomplishment.
— Paul Ryan (@SpeakerRyan) December 13, 2016
The tweet below is also good news for Trump, as Flake is not just a Trump critic of longstanding but a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That’s the committee that’ll be holding confirmation hearings on Tillerson. Marco Rubio, who’s been conspicuously skeptical of Tillerson so far, is also on the committee. Republicans enjoy a 10-9 advantage there; if Democrats hold together and just one Republican flips in voting not to recommend confirmation, Tillerson’s in trouble.
The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker and Bob Gates are recommending Tillerson carries considerable weight. I look forward to the hearings.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) December 13, 2016
Yep, it’s true: For all the angst among Republican hawks over Tillerson for his chumminess with Putin and his lack of government experience, he enjoys the support of some of the biggest names in the Republican establishment. Condi Rice supports him. Bob Gates supports him. James Baker supports him. Dick Cheney supports him. The catch is that Rice, Gates, and Baker all do business with Exxon, Tillerson’s company.
James Baker, the George H.W. Bush secretary of state who, MSNBC reported, advised Donald Trump to pick Tillerson, is a partner at a law firm that has represented Exxon as well as Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company that partners with Exxon…
Tillerson, who was formally nominated by Trump on Tuesday morning, also came recommended by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. They also work for Exxon through their international consulting firm, Rice Hadley Gates…
Rice and Gates’ business partner, former national security adviser Stephen Hadley, has advised Exxon since at least 2011, according to Iraq Oil Report, a website that tracks the country’s petroleum industry.
If Rice et al. had sat quietly while Tillerson’s nomination derailed in the Senate, that might have led to hard feelings at Exxon, and hard feelings aren’t good for business. On the other hand, does anyone believe Rice, Baker, or Gates would back Tillerson if they thought he was likely to be a Putin stooge at State, whatever that might mean for their relationship with Exxon? (Gates, in fact, was my preferred choice for the State job.) You can’t dismiss the support he’s getting from GOP graybeards on obvious ideological grounds either. Cheney and Rice can be categorized as neoconservatives but Baker and Gates are more closely identified with the realist camp. If you’re going to cast these endorsements aside, you need to believe that Ben Shapiro’s right — it’s not so much that Rice, Gates, and Baker are in the tank for Tillerson as that they’re naturally predisposed to overlook his ideological vulnerabilities because they’ve built relationships with him and Exxon. They’ll be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on political matters, rightly or not, out of friendship when someone at arm’s length might not be.
The X-factor in his confirmation hearings, which will (and should) focus mainly on his dealings with Russia, is climate change. Democrats will seize on the opportunity to attack an oil-company CEO, if only for post-election catharsis for their base, but there are two complications from that. One: To the extent that the hearing becomes a referendum on global warming, it might backfire on Dems by encouraging some skeptical Republicans to support Tillerson for partisan reasons. It’s one thing for a GOPer to vote no if the vote is seen as rebuking detente with Putin, but it’s harder to vote no if that vote is seen as a rebuke to fossil fuels. Dems are more likely to get bipartisan support from the likes of Rubio and McCain by emphasizing his Russian ties, but maybe they don’t have that option. Maybe flogging climate-change is the only way to produce a unanimous (or near unanimous) no vote among their entire Dem caucus. Two: Tillerson himself actually sides with the left in believing that global warming is man-made and that a carbon tax is the best way to address it. That could hurt him by costing him a few extra Republican votes — but it could also help by giving red-state Dems who’ll be looking for ways to support the nomination a way to spin their votes to the liberal base. Schumer’s not going to convince the McCaskills and Heitkamps in his caucus, who are up in 2018, to vote no across the board on Trump’s nominees. He’ll need to pick his spots. Where does stopping Tillerson rank compared to stopping Steve Mnuchin or Jeff Sessions?
I think John Schindler asked the key question about Tillerson. Why does Trump want him at State? Is it because he’s an “outsider,” a populist with no government experience who’s prepared to kick the globalists of the world in the teeth? Because, um, he doesn’t sound like one:
In a speech he gave to the Asia Society Global Forum on June 13, 2013, Tillerson talked about his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he said would provide the open markets that would allow the United States and countries in Asia and elsewhere to grow and progress.
“We must embrace the free flow of energy, capital, and human talent across oceans and borders,” Tillerson told the crowd.
It seems like the reason Trump’s taken a shine to Tillerson is because he’s on such good terms with Putin. That’s his key credential. And if you’re worried about Trump’s fondness for Russia’s government, having a potential yes-man as his key liaison to Russia is a dicey proposition. Everyone likes the choice of Gen. Mattis at Defense, not just because he’s held in high esteem as a person and as a leader but because he’s expected to push back hard at Trump if and when he sees him following a strategy that’ll undermine American interests. Can we have the same faith in Tillerson? Tillerson has opposed sanctions on Russia in his capacity as Exxon CEO for obvious reasons; will he suddenly support them as head of the State Department or oppose them on the theory that what’s bad for Exxon must be bad for America?
Here’s Reince Priebus recycling ye olde argument that building good relations with enemy powers can only be a good thing. Obama made a variation of that argument in 2008, once famously saying at a Democratic primary debate that he’d be willing to meet with enemy leaders without preconditions. Republicans tore him to shreds for that, worrying that he’d be an easy mark as president for foreign influence. Toss that on the pile with the rest of the things we no longer believe because it’s now politically inconvenient to believe them.