Rubio Backs Tillerson, Paves Way for State Dept Post


U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio on Monday said he would reluctantly back President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, in a move that all but secures Senate confirmation of the former Exxon Mobil Corp chief executive as the nation's top diplomat.

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Rubio said he was troubled by Tillerson's recent responses before lawmakers regarding Russia as well as other countries, but that ultimately he decided he would vote to approve the nominee in deference to Trump, as well as to not leave a critical top job unfilled.

"Despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson's nomination in committee and in the full Senate," Rubio said in a statement ahead of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's vote on Tillerson later on Monday.

A vote in the Republican-controlled Senate was expected shortly after the committee vote.

Rubio, a onetime rival to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination who was re-elected in November, said he would not be so deferential regarding Trump's other nominees for top posts at the State Department.

At a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Tillerson expressed views that appeared to be at odds with Trumps's on key foreign policy issues like nuclear proliferation, trade deals, climate change and relations with Mexico.

The nominee also had a tense exchange with Rubio on whether he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin was a war criminal, in reference to Russia's military actions in support of Syria's government. He deplored such actions but stopped short of calling Putin a war criminal.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has relied on longtime ally Russia's help to try to suppress rebel opposition to his rule, which sprang up in 2011.

Tillerson, 64, also sidestepped questions on human rights, declining to condemn countries like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines for rights abuses, saying he wanted the facts first.

Over the weekend, fellow Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said they would back Tillerson despite their concerns over his relationship with Putin.

Earlier on Monday, the most senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Ben Cardin, said he would not support Tillerson.

Despite Democratic opposition, Tillerson was expected to win confirmation. (Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

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