Marco Rubio Came for Tillerson, and That’s Bad News for Trump

During the confirmation hearing of Rex Tillerson, President-elect Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, Republican Senator Marco Rubio did not hold back. Perhaps the most striking question of his questions sought to corner Tillerson over whether he would name Russian President Putin a “war criminal.” Tillerson responded that he would never use such a term to describe him. That seemed to fire up Rubio, who proceeded to blast Tillerson for not publicly condemning Putin.

“It should not be hard to say that Vladimir Putin’s army has committed war crimes in Aleppo because it is never acceptable for a military—you would agree—to specifically target civilians, which is what has happened there,” Rubio intoned. Tillerson attempted to demur by citing the need for information after his confirmation. “I look forward to being fully informed,” Tillerson responded, infuriating Rubio who interrupted him declaring, “None of this is classified. There are dead people!” Minutes later Tillerson admitted that he would classify Putin’s actions as crimes provided that he had sufficient information and evidence about them.

Rubio further tried to elicit Tillerson’s response to restraints on press freedom including imprisonment and killings of journalists under Putin’s regime. The ExxonMobil chief, however, remained reluctant to put the blame on the Russian leader, arguing again that he lacks “sufficient information to make that claim….People who speak up for freedoms in regimes that are oppressive are often a threat and these things happen to them.”

Rubio’s support may be crucial for Tillerson to receive confirmation from a closely divided Senate. Should he join with Russia hawks such as Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Tillerson may not have the votes he needs. And that would prove a bitter defeat for Trump.

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