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Senate Confirms Tillerson As Secretary Of State In Contentious Vote

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state on Wednesday, filling a key spot on the Republican’s national security team despite concerns about the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive officer’s ties to Russia.

In the vote, 56 senators backed Tillerson, and 43 voted no. The tally was largely along party lines, with every Republican favoring Tillerson, along with four members of the Democratic caucus, Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Mark Warner as well as Angus King, an independent.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons did not vote.

Senate Democrats had tried, but failed, to delay the vote because of Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries and temporarily halting the entry of refugees. They said they wanted to ask Tillerson more questions about the issue after Trump signed the order on Friday.

Senators had also expressed concerns over Tillerson’s ties to Russia after the executive spent years there working for the oil company. Some faulted him for failing to promise to recuse himself from matters related to Exxon Mobil businesses for his entire term as secretary of state rather than only the one year required by law.

Republicans said they thought Tillerson would be a strong leaders as the country’s top diplomat. They also said it was important to fill key slots on Trump’s national security team quickly.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Alden Bentley and Jeffrey Benkoe)

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to become U.S. Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By A Narrow Margin, Senate Panel Clears Tillerson’s Path To Be Secretary Of State

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, former Exxon Mobil Corp Chairman Rex Tillerson, narrowly won approval from a Senate committee on Monday, but is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-10 to approve Tillerson, with every Republican backing the former oil executive and every Democrat opposing him.

His approval by the panel, a victory for Trump, had been in doubt until earlier on Monday, when Senator Marco Rubio, a committee member who had been Tillerson’s most vocal Republican critic, said he would back the nominee.

Tillerson’s confirmation by the 100-member Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats, is not expected before next week. Democrats want more time to debate and the chamber may not be in session all this week.

Rubio’s backing had been in doubt after his tough questioning during Tillerson’s confirmation hearing, focusing on issues including concerns about Tillerson’s support for human rights. Rubio ultimately decided he would approve the nominee in deference to Trump, as well as to fill a critical top job.

Democrats said they voted against Tillerson over fears he might lift sanctions on Russia, where he did business for years, questions about his views on human rights and his refusal to recuse himself from matters related to his former employer during his entire term as the top U.S. diplomat.

Tillerson pledged to recuse himself only for the year required by law.

Amid Democratic anger over allegations that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, Tillerson also raised committee hackles by saying he did not know Exxon Mobil lobbied against sanctions on Russia while he was running the company.

Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, said Tillerson’s “business orientation” and responses at his hearing “could compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years.”

The Senate confirmed only two of Trump’s Cabinet nominees on Friday, his Inauguration Day, a relatively low number among recent presidencies.

Democrats have been unable to block any of his choices because they changed Senate rules in 2013 to allow nominees to be confirmed with just a majority, not 60 votes. Instead, they have used Senate rules to slow the confirmation of nominees they say hold extreme views, are unqualified or have not completed ethics disclosures.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. State Department Nominee Tillerson Fights Climate Deposition

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Rex Tillerson, the former oil executive under consideration for U.S. secretary of state, is trying to avoid giving testimony in a federal lawsuit over climate change, according to a lawyer for a group of teenagers who filed the suit.

Lawyers for the teenagers, who sued the federal government claiming it violated their constitutional rights by causing global warming, were scheduled to depose Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, in his capacity as a board member of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group.

The lawyers planned to ask Tillerson when he first learned of the impact the burning of fossil fuels was having on the Earth’s atmosphere.

His answers might then be used to prove the government, working with the energy and manufacturing industries, continued to allow activities harmful to the environment despite knowing the risks to future generations, said Julia Olson, a lawyer in Eugene, Oregon, who is executive director of Our Children’s Trust and representing the teenagers.

Tillerson’s deposition was set for Jan. 19, a day before President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

But Olson said the API’s lawyers told her in a letter that Tillerson should not have to testify because he is no longer affiliated with the group. Her team has asked API to prove Tillerson had left the group on Dec. 28, when they sent notice of their intent to depose him.

“If he was still on the board on the date of notice of deposition, he can still be deposed,” Olson said.

The lawsuit, brought in federal court in Oregon, says the U.S. government helped to cause climate change through its policies, thus denying a group of young people their constitutional right to life, liberty and property.

The API and two other industry groups intervened in the case, claiming a judgment requiring the government to tighten environmental regulations would harm their business interests.

Tillerson announced he was retiring from ExxonMobil on Dec. 14, a day after Trump announced his nomination as secretary of state. The API has not announced any change to Tillerson’s role in its organization, but its president released a statement congratulating Tillerson on his nomination on Dec. 13.

An API spokesman, lawyers for the API and a spokesman for the Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is Juliana v. U.S., U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Eugene), No. 15-cv-01517.

(This version of the story was refiled to say the API’s lawyers told her in a letter, not that they told her by telephone, in paragraph six)

(Reporting By Emily Flitter; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson (C), the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, comes to testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

5 Key Climate Takeaways From The Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Secretary of state nominee and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 11. Tillerson is already under fire for making the seemingly false claim that Exxon has not lobbied against sanctions on Russia and other nations that would affect Exxon’s business dealings, but here are five other climate change-related takeaways that reporters should keep in mind in their coverage of the hearing and Tillerson nomination going forward.

1. Tillerson distorted climate change science … again.

As researchers at Harvard and MIT have documented, Tillerson has falsely claimed in the past that the temperature record “really hadn’t changed” over the previous decade and repeatedly made scientifically inaccurate claims “seeking to sow doubt about the reliability of climate models.”

Tillerson again wrongly cast doubt on climate models during the confirmation hearing. When asked by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) whether climate change is caused by human activities, Tillerson replied that the “increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect,” but that “our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”

In reality, “climate models have proven themselves reliable in predicting long-term global surface temperature changes,” as The Guardian’s Dana Nuccitelli has noted. Indeed, in remarks to Mashable responding to Tillerson’s comments, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann similarly said, “Climate models have proven extremely skillful in predicting the warming that has already been observed.” And David Titley, the former head of the Navy’s climate change task force, explained, “The ability of climate scientists to predict the future is significantly more skillful than many other professions (economics, intelligence, political science) who try and predict the future.”

As Texas Tech University climate researcher Katherine Hayhoe told Mashable, climate projections of emissions scenarios are “based on physics and chemistry, the fundamentals of which have been understood” since the 1850s.

2. Tillerson disputed the Pentagon’s determination that climate change is a significant national security threat.

When Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked Tillerson whether he sees climate change as a national security threat, Tillerson answered, “I don’t see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.”

Among the “others” who disagree with Tillerson is the Pentagon, which has called climate change a “security risk” and said that considering the effects of climate change is essential to meeting the Defense Department’s “primary responsibility” to “protect national security interests around the world.” A 2014 Defense Department report similarly stated that climate change “poses immediate risks to U.S. national security,” and a bipartisan group of defense experts and former military leaders recently sent a briefing book to President-elect Donald Trump containing recommendations for addressing these risks.

For its part, the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change calls climate change a “global threat.”

3. Tillerson refused to discuss the “ExxonKnew” scandal.

Tillerson refused to answer questions from Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) about media investigations documenting that Exxon’s own scientists had confirmed by the early 1980s that fossil fuel pollution was causing climate change, yet Exxon funded organizations that helped manufacture doubt about the causes of climate change for decades afterward. Tillerson declared that he was “in no position to speak on [Exxon’s] behalf,” and that “the question would have to be put to ExxonMobil.” Kaine explained that he wasn’t asking Tillerson to respond on behalf of Exxon, but rather to confirm or deny the accuracy of the allegations against the company, which he ran until the end of December. When Kaine asked Tillerson whether he was unable or unwilling to answer Kaine’s questions, Tillerson replied: “A little of both.”

The media reports on Exxon, published in the fall of 2015 by InsideClimate News and the Los Angeles Times, prompted attorneys general in New York, California, and Massachusetts to each launch investigations of Exxon that are still ongoing. As InsideClimate News noted, “If Tillerson spoke about this under oath at this hearing, it conceivably could complicate matters for lawyers at the company he led.”

4. Tillerson declined to endorse the Paris climate agreement.

Under Tillerson’s leadership, Exxon issued several statements in support of the Paris climate agreement, which committed countries around the world to cutting emissions, with the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees Celsius. However, Tillerson declined to explicitly endorse the Paris agreement during his confirmation hearing.

When initially asked about the agreement by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tillerson did not address the agreement specifically, but he did say that it’s “important that the United States maintain a seat at the table on the conversations around how to address the threats of climate change, which do require a global response.” But when asked about the agreement by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) later in the hearing, Tillerson left open the possibility of renegotiating — or even withdrawing from — the agreement, as InsideClimate News noted:

In case you missed it, Tillerson answered questions about whether the United States would remain in the Paris climate accord in a such a non-committal way that he left open the possibility for the Trump administration to ditch the agreement or pull out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as some of the President’s team have recommended.

Tillerson suggested that the “America First” motto that Trump ran on would be the main criterion in assessing participation in the global climate accord.

Responding to a question from Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey about staying in the accord, Tillerson said that Trump would conduct a thorough review of global and bilateral accords on climate and that he would make his views known to the new president, who has vowed to ‘cancel’ the agreement and who has most recently called climate change a ‘hoax’ invented by the Chinese to hobble American business. Tillerson did not say what his views or recommendations would be.

Tillerson then continued: “I also know that the president as part of his priority in campaigning was to put America first. So there’s important considerations as we commit to such accords and as those accords are executed over time, are there any elements of that put America at a disadvantage?”

[…]

Markey then asked if it should be a priority of the U.S. to work with other countries to find solutions to that problem.

Tillerson answered: “It’s important for America to remain engaged in those discussions so we are at the table expressing a view and understanding what the impacts may be on the American people and American competitiveness.”

Trump has said that he would “renegotiate” or “cancel” the Paris agreement. He’s also claimed since the election that he has an “open mind” about the agreement, but internal documents from Trump’s transition team “show the new administration plans to stop defending the Clean Power Plan,” which is the linchpin of the United States’ emissions reduction commitments under the Paris agreement.

Some reporters are interpreting Tillerson’s reference to a “seat at the table” as support for the Paris agreement, but his broad phrasing could also apply to seeking to rewrite the terms of the deal — or withdrawing from it altogether. Later in the hearing, Tillerson added that he believes it’s important to have a “seat at the table” in order to “judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries around the table and again adjust our own course accordingly.”

5. Tillerson did not address climate change, oil, or even Exxon itself in his opening remarks.

In their initial coverage of the Tillerson nomination, several major media outlets uncritically portrayed Tillerson as an advocate for action to combat climate change, despite his — and Exxon’s — troubling track record on the issue. But when Tillerson was given the opportunity to outline his vision and priorities for the State Department during his opening statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he did not once mention climate change, lending credence to the contention of Tillerson’s critics that his and Exxon’s professed support for climate action “was all P.R.

Tillerson’s opening statement also neglected to mention oil or even Exxon itself, where Tillerson has worked for the last 41 years. That glaring omission hints at a lack of concern for crucial questions about whether Tillerson’s oil industry experience prepares him to serve as America’s top diplomat, or whether, as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll put it, he will be willing and able to “embrace a vision of America’s place in the world that promotes ideals for their own sake, emphatically privileging national interests over private ones.”

IMAGE: Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst