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Rubio Statement on the Nomination of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State

Jan 23, 2017 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement today announcing his support for Rex Tillerson as America’s next secretary of state:

I believe the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. I also believe given the uncertainty surrounding the future direction of our foreign policy that a higher degree of scrutiny is justified in evaluating whoever is nominated to serve as secretary of state.

Our foreign policy is at its best and most effective when it is grounded in the moral principles and values that have defined us since our founding. President Reagan made democracy and liberty central to his foreign policy. He challenged the ‘evil empire,’ and he demanded they ‘tear down this wall.’

But today there are calls to move our foreign policy in a direction that views geopolitics as a series of deals to be made, even if they come at the expense of our values or require us to abandon our traditional allies. Therefore, my consideration of Mr. Tillerson’s nomination focused not just on his qualifications, but also on his views about the role of democracy and human rights in shaping our foreign policy.

I have no doubts about Mr. Tillerson’s qualifications and patriotism. He has an impressive record of leadership and the proven ability to manage a large and complex organization. What I focused on from the beginning is whether as secretary of state he will make the defense of liberty, democracy and human rights a priority.

I was encouraged by a number of his answers throughout this process. He acknowledged that Russia conducted a campaign of active measures designed to undermine our elections. He stated that Russia’s taking of Crimea was illegal and illegitimate. He affirmed that our NATO ‘Article V commitment is inviolable.’ He endorsed the Magnitsky Act. He accurately characterized the conflict in eastern Ukraine as a Russian invasion, and he supports providing defensive weapons to Ukraine.

However, his answers on a number of other important questions were troubling. He did not condemn Russia’s repeated violations of the Minsk II agreement. While he condemned Russia for ‘supporting Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war,’ he refused to publicly acknowledge that Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes. Despite his extensive experience in Russia and his personal relationship with many of its leaders, he claimed he did not have sufficient information to determine whether Putin and his cronies were responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists, and political opponents. He indicated he would support sanctions on Putin for meddling in our elections only if they met the impossible condition that they not affect U.S. businesses operating in Russia. While he stated that the ‘status quo’ should be maintained for now on sanctions put in place following Putin’s illegal taking of Crimea, he was unwilling to firmly commit to maintaining them so long as Russia continues to occupy Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

Human rights violations in China, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia are well documented in the latest annual Human Rights Report produced by the State Department, but Mr. Tillerson testified he ‘would need to have greater information’ before acknowledging them, and said he would not rely on ‘what I read in the papers.’ Identifying certain actions as human rights violations is an integral part of the secretary of state’s job, but Mr. Tillerson implied that speaking out on human rights would hinder his ability to do his job as the nation’s chief diplomat.

Mr. Tillerson is likely to have a potentially unprecedented level of influence over the direction of our foreign policy. I remain concerned that in the years to come, our country will not give the defense of democracy and human rights the priority they deserve, and will pursue a foreign policy that too often sets aside our values and our historic alliances in pursuit of flawed geopolitical deals.

But in making my decision on his nomination, I must balance these concerns with his extensive experience and success in international commerce, and my belief that the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. 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. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.

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.