U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio backed Rex Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state Monday, despite “reservations” exposed in the Florida Republican’s pointed, high-profile questioning of the Cabinet nominee two weeks ago.
“Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy,” Rubio wrote on Facebook. “Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.”
Rubio made the announcement ahead of Monday afternoon’s vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, allowing Tillerson to clear the committee without the political blemish of having a Republican oppose him. Tillerson’s two other potential detractors on the committee, U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both said Sunday they’d support him. The committee vote was 11-10, breaking down along party lines.
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Rubio used the public Tillerson hearing last Monday to try to corner the former Exxon Mobil chief executive on Russia. Tillerson refused to label Russian President Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal.” (“I would not use that term,” Tillerson said.)
Their feisty exchange, which also touched on human-rights issues in countries like Cuba and China, was nationally televised and gave Rubio, a master of seizing the public-relations moment, the biggest Washington press coverage he’s had in months. He was reportedly courted by top Trump administration honchos and GOP donors afterward, and spent a week telling reporters he was reviewing Tillerson’s answers to questions Rubio posed in writing before making up his mind.
By Trump’s inauguration Friday, few Washington politicians expected Rubio to break with the new president, given Rubio would receive little political upside, other than to rally support from other Republican national-security hawks worried about Putin’s influence.
On Monday, the Democratic National Committee slammed Rubio, who easily won reelection in November, for refusing to buck Trump.
“By ignoring his serious reservations about Tillerson’s connections to Vladimir Putin, Marco Rubio is not only rolling over for Donald Trump, he’s earning the nickname Trump gave him: Little Marco,” DNC Senior Adviser Zac Petkanas said in a statement.
Still, Rubio warned in his Facebook post that the may continue to be critical of other State Department picks.
“However, upcoming appointments to critical posts in the Department of State are not entitled to and will not receive from me the same level of deference I have given this nomination,” he wrote.