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Senate Confirms Former Oil CEO, Putin Ally to Helm State Department

Christine Grimaldi

Tillerson pledged to continue State Department programs dedicated to “empowering" women, but dodged a follow-up question on family planning programs, saying he would have to examine all aspects before giving a similar commitment.

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Rex Tillerson as the nation’s secretary of state despite concerns on both sides of the aisle about the former ExxonMobil CEO’s ties to Russia.

The Senate voted 56 to 43 on President Trump’s pick to lead the U.S. Department of State. Three Democrats—Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Joe Manchin (WV), Mark Warner (VA)—and Sen. Angus King (ME), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, joined a unanimous GOP in supporting Tillerson. Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) did not vote on the confirmation.

Tillerson’s fate was all but sealed after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who grilled the new chief diplomat and “friend” of Russian President Vladimir Putin at a tense confirmation hearing, announced on Facebook that he would defer to Trump’s judgment.

During the confirmation hearing, Tillerson faced tough questions from Democrats about international family planning programs and climate change.

Tillerson pledged to continue State Department programs dedicated to “empowering” women, but dodged a follow-up question on family planning programs, saying he would have to examine all aspects before giving a similar commitment.

Tillerson’s record on climate change also came under scrutiny. Tillerson said that asking for the names of State Department employees who have worked on climate change, as Trump’s transition team sought from the U.S. Department of Energy, would be “a pretty unhelpful way to get started.” But he equivocated on the issue under intense questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s running mate.

“It’s shameful Tillerson refused to answer my questions on his company’s role in funding phony climate science,” Kaine tweeted. “Bottom line: #ExxonKnew.”

Greenpeace condemned the final vote.

The Senators voting to confirm Rex Tillerson have clearly left their spines at home,” the organization said in a statement. “Tillerson was complicit in Exxon’s decades-long denial of climate science, and he used his company’s deep pockets to silence and intimidate anyone who was critical of its disregard for the public good. Rex Tillerson’s record, friendships, and business interests clearly foreshadow the dangerous oil diplomacy he will pursue as Secretary of State.”

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