Today the Senate is set to begin the 30 hours of debate allowed prior to voting on the nomination of Rex Tillerson, former CEO of ExxonMobil, for Secretary of State.
Tillerson’s confirmation to serve as the nation’s highest ranking foreign diplomat falls at a time of international and national dispute over the actions taken by President Trump during his first week in office. Senate Democrats are expected to demand a delay to the procedural vote in an effort to question Tillerson on Trump’s controversial executive actions, signed after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved his nomination.
On his first day as President, Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy, known as the Global Gag Rule, which bans any overseas non-governmental organization that receives US family planning and reproductive health funding from providing or distributing information about abortions, even using funding from non-US government sources. Trump took the measure a step further, expanding the rule to include global health assistance programs across all departments and agencies, impacting over $9 billion in funding to a range of health organizations, including those that aim to combat HIV/AIDS and Zika.
Furthermore, President Trump’s executive order or “Muslim Ban,” implemented on Friday, sparked international criticism outrage, inspiring a series of protests at airports across the country. Trump has suspended entry of travelers from seven, predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, and frozen the distribution of visas to refugees for 120 days. The same order gives Christian refugees priority over their Muslim counterparts. Hundreds of foreign service officers are expected to demonstrate opposition to the ban through the State Department’s dissent channel.
If confirmed as Secretary of State, Tillerson will undoubtedly inherit the responsibility of handling the international relations and internal State Department conflicts that have already resulted from these executive actions.
In addition, Tillerson’s Russian business ties while CEO at ExxonMobil continue to be a point of contention, as they were throughout his confirmation hearing. Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned about Tillerson’s views on Russia and his commitment to taking action against human rights violations. Senator Marco Rubio stood as one of Tillerson’s harshest critics but decided to support the nomination. Rubio’s vote meant that Republicans in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed Tillerson unanimously with a vote of 11-10.
UPDATE: Tillerson was confirmed on Wednesday, February 1 by a 56-43 vote in the Senate.
Sources: USA Today 1/30/17; The Hill 1/23/2017; CNN, 1/23/2017; Washington Post 1/23/2017; Feminist Majority Foundation 1/24/2017; CNN, 1/30/2017; Independent, 1/28/2017; Department of Homeland Security 1/29/2017; BBC 1/30/2017; Vice 1/30/17; CNN 1/30/17; New York Times 2/1/17