He’s undecided right now, he says, but if you watched the video this morning of him grilling Tillerson on Russia and if you watch the second clip below of him lecturing Tillerson about “moral clarity” in his closing statement, it’s obvious that he thinks “what’s right” would be to vote no.
But let’s remember who we’re talking about here. This is a guy who endorsed Trump for president this summer after all but declaring him an extinction-level threat to mankind in the primaries. It’s the same guy who ran for Senate as a border hawk in 2010 before joining the Gang of Eight in 2013 because he thought it would enhance his electability in the general election once he became the GOP’s presidential nominee. Rubio’s going to do what Rubio needs to do to preserve his presidential prospects down the line. That being so, would he dare piss off the Republican base now by embarrassing Trump on one of his showcase cabinet picks and sending Tillerson down to defeat in committee? The question answers itself. Which is too bad, as Rubio could display some interesting independence as a senator if he was content to be a senator. Remember, he got 200,000 more votes in his race in November than Trump did in Florida.
A fascinating scenario here, which I’m rooting for just to see how it plays out, would be for Tillerson to lose the Foreign Relations Committee vote and for McConnell to bring his nomination to the floor for a full confirmation vote anyway. You might think that a Senate traditionalist like McConnell would defer to the committee’s judgment and refuse to do that, but Trump and the base will demand it. And then the Senate GOP will have a very hard choice. Do they defer to the committee by voting no on Tillerson, knowing how angry Trump will be? Or do they make Trump happy by voting to confirm (with help from red-state Democrats like Manchin), which will have the effect of neutering their own power in their respective committees? After all, once one committee’s judgment is ignored, a precedent is set for ignoring the judgments of other committees. Which means plum committee assignments won’t be as valuable as they used to be.
Am I reading too much into this tweet to think it’s a hint from McConnell that he’ll hold a floor vote even if Rubio’s committee gives Tillerson a thumbs down?
I have no doubt that Rex Tillerson will serve our nation's interest as the next Secretary of @StateDept.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) January 11, 2017
There’s always the chance that even if Rubio votes no, Trump and McConnell can find some Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee to cancel him out by voting yes, which would give Tillerson an 11-10 win. The problem is that nearly all of the Democrats on the committee are blue-staters, and the closest thing to someone from a red state, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, won’t have to face voters for another four years. There are no obvious targets to pressure. If Rubio won’t play ball, McConnell will either have to buy one of the Democrats off via horse-trading or take the momentous step of holding a vote of the full Senate despite the committee rejecting Tillerson. But who are we kidding? Rubio will play ball.
Besides, what does he have to gain by blocking Tillerson? Trump’s back-up pick for State is probably Sergei Lavrov.
Here’s a short interview with him after today’s hearing followed by his remarks on “moral clarity,” which are as fluent a statement for privileging western values in conducting foreign policy as you’ll see. Said Drew McCoy, “Rubio is giving the kind of moving speech that wins you Minnesota and Pueto Rico.” Exit question: Did Tillerson really say today that he hasn’t discussed Russia with Trump yet? What? That was supposedly one of the insuperable stumbling blocks between Trump and Romney when they discussed the State job.