And so it appears that Donald Trump will get a clean sweep of confirmations for his Cabinet picks. Both John McCain and Lindsay Graham publicly committed to supporting Rex Tillerson’s confirmation for Secretary of State, assuring Trump of the necessary Senate majority. McCain told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on This Week that Tillerson had answered his questions about his previous relationship with Russia and its leadership:
Note that this isn’t exactly a full-throated endorsement. McCain expresses some doubt as to whether he thinks Tillerson’s on the correct page when it comes to US-Russian relations, but chooses to err on the side of a newly elected president. “When in doubt,” McCain tells Stephanopoulos, “the incoming president gets the benefit of the doubt.”
Lindsay Graham made his commitment to Tillerson on CBS’ Face the Nation, but first spoke extensively about Vladimir Putin’s view of Russia’s national interests. “I don’t know what ‘America First’ means,” Graham says. “If it’s a return to the isolationism of the ’20s and ’30s, when the phrase was first used, the world will deteriorate even quicker.” Graham holds out hope that it’s more of a return to Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy, and offers a somewhat stronger endorsement of Tillerson as an agent of that kind of approach:
Graham says that Tillerson told him that “we need to lead from the front,” and that was what convinced Graham to vote for his confirmation.
So where does that leave Marco Rubio? In between two choices, neither of which mean much any more:
But as the committee prepares to vote on Tillerson’s nomination, Rubio faces a dilemma. He must either back down, which means a retreat from a strong stand on Russia and human rights, or cross Trump in the first days of his presidency.
A “no” vote from Rubio would not doom Tillerson’s confirmation, because the nomination could go directly to the Senate floor without a positive committee recommendation. But it would be an embarrassing rebuke to Trump just as his presidency gets underway, with questions swirling about his ties to Russia. GOP party activists would be certain to remember Rubio’s defection, although it’s impossible to predict how such a vote might look years from now if Rubio ever runs for president again. …
Neither McCain nor Graham is on the committee, but their support could make it tougher for Rubio to remain a holdout. McCain said Tillerson’s responses to his questions, particularly in private, convinced him that the nominee could spearhead U.S. diplomacy.
McCain and Graham appear to have cut Rubio’s legs out from under him. It’s almost impossible to argue that Rubio’s more hawkish than McCain, especially on Russia, plus the three Senators usually work in tandem on national security and foreign policy issues. A nay vote will be tough to explain if McCain and Graham are voting aye. Perhaps Rubio might simply abstain, but it seems more likely that he’ll just vote to approve the floor vote in committee and confirm Tillerson in the main vote, especially since a nay at either level won’t stop Tillerson’s confirmation.