WASHINGTON (AP) — The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee says he can't support President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state.
Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland says in a statement that Rex Tillerson's business orientation and confirmation hearing answers could compromise his ability to forcefully promote U.S. values and ideals.
Specifically, Cardin said he based his opposition on Tillerson's unwillingness to call Russia and Syria's atrocities "war crimes," or to describe Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations.
Cardin also said the former Exxon Mobil CEO misled the committee about the company's lobbying against sanctions, such as penalties against Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
The Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on Tillerson's nomination on Monday afternoon.
Sen. Cardin released the following statement:
"I thank Mr. Tillerson for his willingness to serve our nation and for his participation in a lengthy, wide-ranging hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"However, after long and careful consideration, I believe Mr. Tillerson's demonstrated business orientation and his responses to questions during the confirmation hearing could compromise his ability as Secretary of State to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined our country and our leading role in the world for more than 200 years. I will therefore not be supporting his nomination with my vote in Committee or on the Senate floor.
"The United States plays a unique and exceptional role in world affairs. Our values are our interests, as I said at Mr. Tillerson's hearing. And our leadership in supporting democracy, universal human rights, unencumbered civil society, and unabridged press and religious freedoms is indispensable if these ideas and ideals are to be real and tangible in the world.
"Mr. Tillerson equivocated on these self-evident truths under direct questioning, repeatedly prioritizing narrow business interests ahead of these core national security interests. The power of the Secretary of State to call out wrong, to name and shame, and to fight each day on behalf of the American people and freedom-seeking people the world over is an enduring symbol to the oppressed and the vulnerable that the United States has their back.
"Unlike Governor Haley's answers to questions during her hearing to be Ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Tillerson was unwilling to characterize Russia and Syria's atrocities as war crimes, or Philippine President Duterte's extrajudicial killings as gross human rights violations. And he was not willing to dismiss with unqualified clarity a registry for any ethnic or religious group of Americans.
"I also believe Mr. Tillerson misled the Committee regarding his knowledge of ExxonMobil's lobbying on U.S. sanctions. ExxonMobil's lobbying activities are well documented, as is the Securities and Exchange Commission's inquiries regarding the company's use of a foreign subsidiary to get around congressionally-mandated sanctions and do business with state-sponsors of terrorism and some of the worst human rights abusers in the world such as Sudan, Syria, and Iran. Additionally, ExxonMobil's stance on U.S. sanctions against Russia for their illegal invasion and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine in 2014 was well known at the time. Mr. Tillerson's statements last week are inconsistent with the company's well-known, long-held position and activities. This is why it is particularly concerning that Mr. Tillerson indicated during questioning that he was not willing to recuse himself from matters relevant to ExxonMobil for the entire duration of his term.
"While I was pleased that Mr. Tillerson said that he would support the laws I have written to hold accountable human rights abusers globally and in Russia specifically, and that America should have a seat at the table when discussing climate change with the international community, merely being willing to uphold the law or being willing to participate in global diplomacy are simply the necessary prerequisites for the job, not sufficient cause for confirmation.
"On Russia more broadly, I am concerned as to whether Mr. Tillerson would counsel President Trump to keep current sanctions in place – which includes leading our European allies in this most important of endeavors. He showed little interest in advancing the new Russia sanctions legislation I've introduced with Senator McCain and colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Russia attacked us through cyber warfare and has committed even greater atrocities in Ukraine, Syria, and Eastern Europe. They must be held accountable and our bipartisan legislation is an important tool to do so.
"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.
"Finally, America deserves a Secretary of State who will take advantage of every smart power tool in America's diplomatic arsenal before recommending the use of force. I was therefore disturbed when Mr. Tillerson signaled during the hearing he would have recommended using force sooner when asked about real-world scenarios. The Secretary of State must be the consistent voice in any Administration that ensures the President has exhausted all diplomatic efforts before we put our brave men and women in uniform in harm's way.
"Although I believe Mr. Tillerson is very sincere in his willingness to serve his country, and he has negotiating skills that are important for a diplomat, for the reasons I have articulated, I cannot support his nomination."
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