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Rex Tillerson confirmation hearing for secretary of state -- live blog

Tillerson on Aleppo
Marco Rubio grills Rex Tillerson on Putin, Russia 04:55

Rex Tillerson, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, is testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, is the chairman of the panel and Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, is the committee’s top Democrat. 

Catch up on all of the key highlights here:

6:01 p.m. Reporters approached Rubio in the hallway outside the hearing room and asked him about his position on Tillerson so far. 

“Many of his answers were concerning to me, and there’s a chance now to submit some questions in writing, which we’ll do as well and we’ll go back and consider everything. I’ll read through it again and I’ll make a decision here very soon,” Rubio said. 

Asked if he’s leaning one way or the other, he said, “I wouldn’t characterize it that way quite yet. I mean it’s clear I;m concerned about some of his answers and encouraged by a few others. We’ll wait over the next couple of days and then we’ll make a decision.” 

Rubio said he’s prepared to stall the nomination in committee if he decides to oppose Tillerson: “I’m prepared to do what’s right.” 

5:45 p.m. Tillerson is asked if he would advise Mr. Trump that waterboarding and torture is illegal and immoral.

“I think others have opined on that sufficiently,” Tillerson said, referring to Jeff Sessions and Gen. James Mattis. “I wouldn’t disagree with what they said...I agree with what they said.”

3:35 p.m. Tillerson was asked about his stance on the Paris climate agreement that was negotiated under the Obama administration. 

“We’re better served by being at that table than leaving that table,” Tillerson said, which stands in direct contrast to Mr. Trump’s previous remarks in which he said he’d want to “cancel” the deal.

Rex Tillerson: I don't support a travel ban on Muslims, but there are challenges 04:28

3:18 p.m. Shaheen asked Tillerson to share his view on Mr. Trump’s original proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. 

“No, I do not support a blanket-type rejection of any particular group of people,” he said. 

Asked if he would support a U.S. registry for Muslims, Tillerson said, “I would need to have a lot more information over how such an approach would be constructed.” 

He also added that if such a registry were used as a tool for vetting, he said it would probably extend to other groups.

2:45 p.m. Rubio asked Tillerson about the Obama administration’s new policies regarding travel to and business with Cuba. Tillerson said he would do a complete review of recent executive orders from President Obama. 

Asked if he would advise Mr. Trump to veto a bill seeking to lift the U.S. embargo on Cuba, Tillerson said, “If confirmed, yes, I would.” 

Tillerson, however, did not give Rubio an answer regarding whether Cuba belongs on the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list.

Rex Tillerson: Saudi Arabia does not share the same values as America 02:18

2:31 p.m. After some questions from Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, the hearing has now moved into a second round of questions from lawmakers.

1:32 p.m. The hearing has recessed until 2:15 p.m. 

1:28 p.m. In an exchange with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Tillerson said that unless there’s an agreement that Ukraine accepts, the U.S. won’t recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Watch: Rex Tillerson calls out Iranian, Chinese, Russian threats in opening statement 14:27

1:20 p.m. Tillerson is asked about the Iranian nuclear deal and said if confirmed, he would do a “full review of that agreement as well as any number of side agreements that, as I understand, are part of that agreement.”

Tillerson said that he’d like to know whether Iran is complying with the agreement and would like to review the ability to verify that Iran is complying. He added that no one disagrees with the objective that Iran shouldn’t have a nuclear weapon. He said, however, that the current deal freezes Iran’s ability to progress with developing a nuclear weapon, but he said it doesn’t deny Iran the ability to buy one. 

“What comes at the end of the agreement,” Tillerson said, is what he’d like to evaluate.

1:15 p.m. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, asked Tillerson if he views RT as Russian propaganda and asked how he would use the State Department to push back against those efforts. 

Tillerson suggested the U.S. should use the opportunity to communicate facts to the people of Russia to counter “alternative reporting of events” that are presented to Russians by outlets that are controlled by Moscow. 

1:08 p.m. Barrasso asked Tillerson to comment on the Obama administration’s decision to abstain during the vote on the U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements last month.

“Israel is, has always been and remains our most important ally in the region,” Tillerson said. 

The resolution, he said, was “not helpful” and undermines the prospects for direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Tillerson said that Secretary of State John Kerry’s subsequent speech about the importance of still pursuing the two-state solution was “quite troubling because of the attacks on Israel.” 

1:06 p.m. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, brings up the fight against ISIS and Tillerson said the defeat of the terror group requires advanced capabilities in U.S. communication tools to disrupt the group’s communication tools like the Internet.

Tillerson also made the point that defeating ISIS in Iraq and Syria won’t get rid of the group once and for all.

“It will simply morph to its next version,” he said. 

12:55 p.m. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, asked Tillerson about whether he agrees with Mr. Trump that NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were big mistakes. Tillerson said Mr. Trump’s issue that he has with NAFTA is that it’s been in place for a few decades now.

“I do not oppose TPP,” Tillerson said. “I share some of his views...whether the agreement that was negotiated serves all of American interests at best.”

Merkley asked about a report from USA Today this week that said a subsidiary of Exxon did business with Iran, bypassing U.S. sanctions against Iran, under Tillerson’s leadership. Asked if he had any memory of this situaton, Tillerson said, “I do not.”

12:45 p.m. During an exchange with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, Tillerson seemed to echo what Mr. Trump has said about the Iraq war in the end and said it didn’t achieve goals like stability in the Middle East and security even though he said it was well-intentioned.

“The decision to go into Iraq...upon reflection, did not achieve those objectives,” Tillerson said. 

Marco Rubio grills Rex Tillerson on Putin, Russia 04:55

12:33 p.m. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, asked Tillerson if he would support increasing sanctions against Russia if it they hurt ExxonMobil, which Tillerson has worked for for 41 years. 

Tillerson said that if he’s confirmed, he would consult first with the president and other agencies. He said there would be “no space” between the president and the administration in those decisions. 

“If confirmed, I only serve in the interest of the American people,” Tillerson said. 

Markey brought up Tillerson’s announcement to recuse himself in issues involving Exxon and noted that that statutory limit only applies for one year. Asked if he would recuse himself for the remainder of his tenure as seretary of state, Tillerson said that for any matter after the first year that involves Exxon, he would “seek the guidance of the ethics counsel” and honor their advice.

12:18 p.m. Murphy asked Tillerson about the dossier of unsubstantiated information that intelligence agencies presented to Mr. Trump that said Russia had compromising information on the president-elect.

Asked if he’s been briefed on those allegations, Tillerson said, “I have not.”

Asked if Mr. Trump has been briefed, Tillerson said, “I don’t know.”

Asked if ExxonMobil has had business relationships with Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort or Carter Page, Tillerson said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

Asked if the FBI should be allowed to investigate the allegations for accuracy, Tillerson said, “I think I would leave that to those agencies to determine.”

U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) points to photos during her questioning of Rex Tillerson during Tillerson's Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to become Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

12:14 p.m. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, asked Tillerson how the U.S. can deter cyberattacks if the Trump administration sends a message that countries can get away with them if there are no sanctions against those people. 

“What I was intending to convey is I need to be fully informed as to what all the options are,” Tillerson said, commenting on Murphy stating that Tillerson said he wouldn’t support mandatory sanctions. 

Tillerson explained that it’s possible that other options are more effective than sanctions, but that they can sometimes serve as a powerful tool. 

12:04 p.m. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, a freshman senator, said that in a private meeting with Tillerson, the nominee said that a disparity existed between U.S. and European sanctions on Russia. Young said his office contacted the Congressional Research Service, which said that both sanctions regimes are “broadly similar.” 

“I was speaking in terms of the sector I was involved in at the time,” Tillerson said, which was natural gas development. 

Tillerson said that the E.U. sanctions had a grandfather provision and the U.S. sanctions did not have grandfathering. 

Young asked also Tillerson about the possible damage done by Mr. Trump’s tweets. 

“I don’t think I’ll be telling the boss how to communicate with the American people,” Tillerson said.

11:54 a.m. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, asked Tillerson if he is aware of any financial connections between Mr. Trump or his associates with Russian individuals or organizations.

“I have no knowledge,” Tillerson said. 

Kaine asked what he would say if he substituted Turkey or another country with Russia, Tillerson said, “I have no knowledge.” 

The Virginia Democrat then asked how Congress and the nation is supposed to judge actions by the president-elect and whether they would benefit him personally.

“That’s a question that others will have to address,” Tillerson said.

11:49 a.m. The hearing resumed and Corker went back to the discussion over Exxon’s involvement with U.S. sanctions imposed against Russia. Tillerson agreed with Corker’s statement that Exxon did not lobby against sanctions, but that the company helped go through the details of what the sanctions would do. 

“I never lobbied against the sanctions,” Tillerson said, adding that he’s not aware that Exxon lobbied against the sanctions either. 

Tillerson explained that the sanctions imposed against Russia took immediate effect and Exxon was in the middle of drilling a well. He said he had to quickly engage with the State Department and Treasury Department and explain that pulling out of the well project would put lives and and the environment at risk. The administration eventually granted a temporary exemption, but Tillerson said that Exxon was going to comply with sanctions.

“The characterization that ExxonMobil lobbied against the sanctions is just not accurate,” Tillerson said.

11:40 a.m. The hearing has recessed for a five-minute break.

11:38 a.m. Tillerson said that the “great and most complex threat” that the U.S. is facing today is in the cybersecurity realm. He said that the U.S. is “extraordinarily vulnerable” and has not built sufficient defensive infrastructure. 

He said that the administration should “put in place a comprehensive strategy for dealing with cybersecurity and cyber threats.” That policy should encompass, he said, what are the appropriate norms for cyber behavior, the appropriate use for cyber information and what would be an acceptable response when those norms are violated. 

11:33 a.m. In an exchange with Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, Tillerson said, “Diplomacy will be ineffective if it’s not backed up by the threat of force.” 

Tillerson said that he would maintain U.S. sanctions against North Korea and criticized the Obama administration for what he described as a failure “to enforce existing sanctions regimes” including those overseen by the United Nations.

11:22 a.m. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, asked what Tillerson would do as secretary of state in terms of issues involving ExxonMobil, which Tillerson has headed as its CEO. 

“If confirmed as secretary of state, I would recuse myself from those issues,” Tillerson said. 

Udall asked if Tillerson would take calls from the new chairman of Exxon and he didn’t directly answer. He said that in his prior role, he never called the secretary of state directly, but instead called deputies or ambassadors. 

“I’ve made clear in my disclosures that obviously there’s a statutory recusal period on any matters that come before the State Department that might deal with ExxonMobil,” Tillerson said.

Udall pressed Tillerson on his views on climate change and he said that Mr. Trump has asked about his views on climate change and that he feels free to express himself. Corker pressed Tillerson further on climate change.

Tillerson said that he came to the conclusion a few years ago that the risk of climate change does exist and it’s significant enough to merit actions. He said the U.S. has done a pretty good job combatting it so far. Asked if he believes human activity has led to climate change, Tillerson said that the increase in greenhouse gas emissions “are having an effect.” 

“Our ability to predict that effect is very limted,” he said.

11:08 a.m. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said that he has introduced an authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to target the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia and he asked Tillerson where he stands on such a proposal. 

Tillerson said that Mr. Trump has indicated in broad terms during his campaign and in other comments that he believes it’s important that the U.S. does not lightly go into conflicts. The president-elect, Tillerson said, would “seek the engagement of Congress” and “support of Congress” in certain situations abroad and added that it’s “much more powerful when the United States shows up with everyone aligned.”

10:56 a.m. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, asked Tillerson about the Trump administration’s stance on current U.S. sanctions against Russia. 

Tillerson said he would want to “keep the status quo until we are able to develop what our approach will be.”

Shaheen also asked if Tillerson would commit to maintaining a U.S. program to support expanded access around the world to quality familiy planning services and reproductive services and ensuring that it’s not conflated with access to abortion. Tillerson said that he understands that the U.S. invests $500,000 a year in those programs, which he said is important, but he didn’t exactly answer her question.

10:49 a.m. During an exchange with Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, Tillerson explained that Russia has sought to re-establish its role in the global world order since the fall of the former Soviet Union. Tillerson said that Russia was not in a position to assert that for most of the last two decades.

“I think that’s now what we’re witnessing...[the] assertion on their part in order to force a conversation,” Tillerson said about Russia’s role in the global world order.

In what seemed like a surprising statement Tillerson then said, “We aren’t likely to ever be friends...our value systems are starkly different.” 

Tillerson said that the U.S. needs to move Russia from being an adversary always to being an adversary at times and a partner at times.

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to become U.S. Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

10:36 a.m. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, the former top Democrat on the panel, has begun questioning Tillerson. Menendez noted that Tillerson received the Order of Friendship award from Russia and had direct and personal access over the course of his tenure at ExxonMobil with Putin. Menendez said that Exxon employed D.C.-based lobbyists to lobby against sanctions against Russia after its invasion of eastern Ukraine. 

Menendez said that sanctions are one of the most essential diplomatic tools in the U.S. arsenal and he pointed out that while Tillerson said during the hearing that sanctions are a “powerful tool,” his previous comments indicate otherwise. 

Asked if he has changed his view on sanctions, Tillerson said, “When sanctions are imposed, they are, by design, going to harm American business.” 

He added that sanctions are “a powerful tool” and that the U.S. must design them, target and enforce them well.

Tillerson claimed that Exxon “never directly lobbied against sanctions...not to my knowledge.”

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

10:31 a.m. Rubio said that Putin has ordered the murder of dissidents, political opponents and journalists and asked Tillerson if he agrees with that assessment. 

“I do not have sufficient information to make that claim,” Tillerson said, adding that sometimes such incidents occur when people speak up for freedom under oppressive regimes. “In terms of assigning specific responsibilities, I would need to have sufficient information.”

10:27 a.m. Rubio asked Tillerson if he would advise Mr. Trump to reverse sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Russia for its cyberattacks. 

“If confirmed, senator, I would want to examine it, all aspects of it,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson: I would have responded to Russia taking Crimea with equal force 02:57

Asked if Putin is a war criminal, Tillerson said, “I would not use that term.”

Rubio began discussing Russia’s bombing of Aleppo and argued that Putin’s government has conducted war crimes in Aleppo, but Tillerson said those were very critical charges that he’d have to look at more.

10:22 a.m. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a 2016 GOP presidential candidate, has begun questioning Tillerson. He asked Tillerson if he believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin worked to influence the 2016 election, denigrate Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee and worked to help Mr. Trump’s chances. 

Tillerson said he has not received any classified briefings yet because he has not received his clearance yet, but that he did read the unclassified report that the intelligence community released last week on Russia’s interference in the election.

“That report clearly is troubling and indicates that all of the actions you just described were undertaken,” Tillerson said.

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing to become U.S. Secretary of State on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

10:17 a.m. Cardin asked Tillerson if Russia has a legal claim to Crimea. 

“No, sir,” Tillerson said. “That was a taking of territory that was not their’s.” 

Cardin said that in Tillerson’s opening statement, he argued that the Obama administration was ineffective in preventing Russia from further encroaching in eastern Ukraine. Cardin asked Tillerson what he would have recommended if he were secretary of state at the time. 

“In terms of the taking of Crimea, my understanding is that it caught a lot of people by surprise,” said Tillerson, who then said it was the administration’s weak response after Russia’s taking of Crimea that led to Russia coming across the border into eastern Ukraine. 

“I would have recommended that the Ukraine had called its military assets that it had available, put them on the eastern border,” Tillerson said, adding that the U.S. should have supplied them with weapons and offered air surveillance to Ukraine. 

Tillerson said that Russian leadership would have understood a “powerful response” such as a more robust supply of U.S. military assets.

10:10 a.m. Corker said that he plans to interject in the hearing with questions and allows Cardin to begin his questioning of Tillerson. Cardin asked Tillerson if he agrees that that the creation of stable, democratic-free societies including basic human rights is in long-term national security interest.

“Without question,” Tillerson said.

Cardin asked if Russia falls in that category and Tillerson said, “Yes, sir.”

Tillerson said that he supports that Magnitsky law that allows Congress to work to sanction Russia and would comply with that law if confirmed as secretary of state.

10:05 a.m. Tillerson continued his opening statement by condemning China for its actions in the South China Sea, but also said its economic interests are intertwined with those of the U.S. He then said that Russia poses a “danger” to the U.S. and he criticized the Obama administration’s foreign policy. 

“We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia. Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia,” he said. 

Tillerson said that the U.S., under Mr. Trump’s leadership, will try to find common ground with the Russian government, but he also said that the U.S. must hold Russia accountable for its actions.

“Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions,” he said. 

10:02 a.m. As part of his opening statement, Tillerson said that the U.S. must hold both allies and the nation’s enemies accoutable. 

“We cannot look the other way at allies who do not meet their obligations; this is an injustice not only to us, but to longstanding friends who honor their promises and bolster our own national security. And we must hold those who are not our friends accountable to the agreements they make,” he said. 

He argued that the U.S. must be “honest” about “radical Islam.”

“It is with good reason that our fellow citizens have a growing concern about radical Islam and murderous acts committed in its name against Americans and our friends,” he said. “Radical Islam poses a grave risk to the stability of nations and the wellbeing of their citizens.”

If confirmed as secretary of state, Tillerson said he would ensure that the State Department does its part to support Muslims around the world “who reject radical Islam in all its forms.” 

9:54 a.m. Tillerson has begun his opening statement. He said he comes before the committee at a “pivotal time” and the U.S. faces “considerable threats,” which he suggested includes Russia. He argued that American leadership must be reasserted.

Rex Tillerson, former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, is seated prior to testifying before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“China has emerged as an economic power in global trade, and our interactions have been both friendly and adversarial. While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests. Radical Islam is not a new ideology, but it is hateful, deadly, and an illegitimate expression of the Islamic faith. Adversaries like Iran and North Korea pose grave threats to the world because of their refusal to conform to international norms,” Tillerson said. 

“As we confront these realities, how should America respond? My answer is simple. To achieve the stability that is foundational to peace and security in the 21st century, American leadership must not only be renewed, it must be asserted.”

Tillerson appeared to channel Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” by arguing for a need in improving U.S. leadership internationally and projecting it as a superpower. 

“Quite simply, we are the only global superpower with the means and the moral compass capable of shaping the world for good,” he said. “If we do not lead, we risk plunging the world deeper into confusion and danger. But we’ve stumbled. In recent decades, we have cast American leadership into doubt. In some instances, we have withdrawn from the world. In others, we have intervened with good intentions but did not achieve the stability and global security we sought.”

9:41 a.m. Cardin, the panel’s top Democrat, has begun his opening statement. He said that there’s no question that Tillerson has an “impressive record” but there’s a difference between leading a company and government decision-making. 

“Yet, I would offer, having a view from the C-Suite at Exxon is not at all the same as the view from the seventh floor of the Department of State. And those who suggest that anyone who can run a successful business can, of course, run a government Agency do a profound disservice to both,” Cardin said.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (L) (R-TN) talks with ranking member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) pror to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Rex Tillerson's nomination to be U.S. secretary of state, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

He said he wants to focus on “human rights, democracy, good governance, anti-corruption and civil society support” and expressed concern with how Tillerson would deal with those issues.

“Mr. Tillerson, leaves some troubling questions about how you view these issues and how you as Secretary of State intend to approach them.

Cardin mentioned that he introduced legislation on Tuesday that would “impose enhanced sanctions on Russia,” which has already received bipartisan support from key lawmakers. He added that he was “disappointed” with Tillerson’s prepared remarks that failed to mention Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

“We need to stand up to this bully in Moscow and increase the cost for his behavior,” Cardin said. “So I was disappointed that in your prepared opening remarks submitted to the Committee yesterday there was no mention about the direct, confirmed cyberattack by Russia on America.”

Cardin also slammed Mr. Trump for his comments about Israel on Twitter. 

“I also need to stress that our important partner in this part of the world – Israel – needs more than tweets about how “great” our relationship is going to be,” he said. “I hope we will hear today a concrete vision with specific proposals for the way forward in strengthening this strategic partnership.”

9:26 a.m. Outside of the hearing before it began, Corker commented to reporters on the reports about Trump and the intelligence community presenting unsubstantiated compromising information that Russia has on the president-elect.

“It’s as we all talked about before, we live in a world where it’s hard to discern what is real and what isn’t,” Corker said about the reports. “That’s why we have committees to delve into those kind of things...I have no way of knowing the veracity of the charges in the document but we do live in a world where let’s face it a lot of that kind of thing is happening.”

9:27 a.m. Corker begins his opening statement, which he appears to be doing off the cuff. He’s listing all of what he considers the foreign policy failures under the Obama administration, speaking about the emergence of the Arab Spring in 2011, President Obama’s “red line” that he never followed through on, Russia’s taking of Crimea and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine and China redrawing the map in South China Sea. 

Rex Tillerson (R), the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, takes his seat next to former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA) to testify before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

He said that the U.S. has been withdrawing in its leadership role in the world, which he called a “recipe for further chaos.”

The hearing was interrupted briefly by chants from protestors inside the room.

Corker said Tillerson had never met Mr. Trump until he was considered for secretary of state. 

9:11 a.m. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, former Sen. Sam Nunn, R-Georgia and former Defense Secretary Bob Gates are introducing Tillerson before opening statements from the chairman, top Democrat and Tillerson himself. Tillerson, a longtime CEO of ExxonMobil, hails from Texas.

Cornyn called Tillerson “uniquely qualified” to lead the State Department.

“Without a doubt, Rex Tillerson is an inspired choice by President-elect Trump for this critical position. The depth and breadth of his experience as an accomplished and successful business leader and skilled negotiator give him a solid understanding of our current geopolitical and economic challenges, making him uniquely qualified to serve in this important office,” he said. 

Cruz said the U.S. needs a secretary of state who “understands that America is exceptional.” Cruz said the Obama administration has used the United Nations to circumvent Congress. The former presidential candidate said he looks forward to having a president and secretary of state who will “vigorously defend U.S. sovereignty.” 

Rex Tillerson (C), the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, is flanked by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Bob Gates (L-R), former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA), Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) as he testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Nunn said that Russia’s values differ from America’s values and “these fundamental differences are very important.” He added that Russia deploys hundreds of nuclear warheads that could be used for ballistic missiles. Nunn called Tillerson’s business experience “very relevant to the world today” and “an asset.” 

Gates said Tillerson’s leadership of a major corporation will allow him to “lead the department with skill and respect for the professionals.” Gates said that the new administration “must thread the needle” between pushing back against Putin’s bullying and Russia’s meddling in other countries and prevent a further downward spiral in the U.S.-Russia relationship.

9:05 a.m. The hearing has begun. Corker said four people will first introduce Tillerson and then he and Cardin will deliver their opening statements and then Tillerson will deliver his. Corker said the panel will take a break at 1 p.m. for 45 minutes.

9:00 a.m. Senators are expected to grill Tillerson on his relationship with the Russian government and its president, Vladimir Putin. There could also be questions regarding his position on the Iranian nuclear deal, sanctions against Russia, Israel and more. 

CBS News’ Alan He contributed to this report.

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