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Rex Tillerson is approved by Senate panel for secretary of State

 (Associated Press)
(Associated Press)

Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil chief executive selected by President Trump to be secretary of State, won approval Monday from a Senate committee, all but guaranteeing his ascension to the job.

The vote at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was 11 in favor and 10 against, cast strictly along party lines. The nomination now moves to the full Senate.

Several senators, Republican and Democratic, had expressed opposition to Tillerson's nomination ahead of Monday's vote. State Department officials said senators submitted more than 1,000 additional questions for Tillerson to answer after his hearing, suggesting many matters were left unsettled.

But in the last 24 hours, he received key support that turned the tide.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Monday said he would vote for Tillerson's confirmation. His was some of the toughest questioning during Tillerson's Jan. 11 hearing before the committee. Rubio pushed the 64-year-old Texas native on his ties to Russia and friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

Rubio and others also complained that Tillerson seemed reluctant to criticize countries whose governments are widely documented to be abusers of human rights, such as the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

But Rubio said Monday that despite "troubling" answers from Tillerson, he decided to allow "significant deference" to Trump in naming his national security team.

On Sunday, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who initially resisted the Tillerson selection, threw their support behind Tillerson, a career Exxon executive. Although they are not members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, they are influential within the party and can help steer the vote on the Senate floor.

Among the opponents to Tillerson was Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), ranking Democrat on the committee. Cardin said Monday he could not vote for Tillerson because he seemed to prioritize "narrow business interests" over broader U.S. goals and values.

Tillerson was unwilling to characterize atrocities as war crimes and was soft on sanctions, Cardin noted, which were imposed on Russia over its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.

“Strangely, he was quick to caution about easing sanctions on Cuba because it would benefit a repressive regime, but seemed indifferent to doing business with Russia knowing that that business helped finance their ongoing violations of international norms," Cardin said.

Tillerson takes the job of America's top diplomat with no diplomatic or political experience. He has differed with Trump on several key policies.

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