What happened at Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing? Russia, Rubio and protesters.


On Wednesday, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil and Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, began his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Breaking with Trump

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Tillerson broke with Trump on several key issues over the course of the hearing, including climate change, Russia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

According to CNN, Tillerson stated that he "did not oppose" the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump has spoken out against repeatedly. He also clearly told the Senate that the "risk of climate change does exist" after Trump stated in December that "nobody really knows" if the issue is real. Tillerson was later asked about the Paris climate agreement, and his stance was that "We're better served by being at the table than leaving that table," which is also in apparent contrast to Trump's position

Despite the differences between the two men's positions, Tillerson did tell the Senate that "ultimately the president-elect was elected, and I'll carry out his policies in order to be as successful as possible."

Perhaps the biggest shift from Trump, though, was how Tillerson spoke of Russia. "We aren't likely to ever be friends" with the country, Tillerson said, citing differences in "our value systems" as the reason. Trump has pushed for friendlier relations between Russia and the United States, only finally conceding Wednesday that Russia was behind alleged cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. Even while admitting the likelihood of Russian involvement, Trump deflected some heat by suggesting that U.S. organizations regularly get hacked by other countries. 

Tillerson's ExxonMobil conflicts 

When asked about any potential conflicts his four decades with ExxonMobil could have with his being confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson promised he would recuse himself from any issues involving his past employer. 

"I've made clear in my disclosures, and I think in answers to questions that have been posed, that obviously there's a statutory recusal period, which I will adhere to, on any matters that might come before the State Department that deal directly and specifically with ExxonMobil," Tillerson said.

However, the mandatory recusal period only lasts for one year, as reported by CBS News, and the former oil executive said only that he would "seek the guidance of the ethics counsel" when it expires.

Rubio talks Russia

Steve Helber/AP

Florida Senator Marco Rubio made headlines grilling Tillerson on Russia, pushing him, it seems, to say more than he was comfortable with. Rubio asked whether Tillerson would be prepared to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal," and when Tillerson said no, Rubio pressed the issue. 

"In Aleppo, Mr. Putin has directed his military to conduct a devastating campaign, he's targeted schools, markets ... and other civilian infrastructure," Rubio said. "It's resulted in the deaths of thousands of civilians."

The senator went on to discuss open-source reporting about Putin and his past actions before asking Tillerson if he was still unprepared to say Putin was a "war criminal."

"I would not use that term," Tillerson said. 

Registries all around?

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

As the afternoon wore on, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) asked Tillerson to whether or not he shared Trump's proposal to ban individuals of the Muslim faith from entering the U.S. Tillerson said he did not share this view, but when asked if he would support a registry for Muslims, he said he would need "a lot more information" about how it would be created in order to answer. 

He went on to state that this tool, if viable, could "extend to other groups that are threats to the U.S."

Protests continue

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Protests against Tillerson's nomination have gone on around the country since December. Wednesday's hearing was interrupted several times by protesters inside the building hoping to make their pleas heard. 

According to CNBC, multiple protesters held signs inside, while others gathered outside. One protester stood up during the hearing and cried, "Please don't put Exxon in charge of the State Department! Protect our children and grandchildren!"