Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson will be nominated as President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, setting up a potential confirmation battle with U.S. lawmakers who have questioned his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none,” Trump said.
Tillerson said that he will focus on restoring America’s credibility on the international stage.
“We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests and enhancing the strength, security and sovereignty of the United States,” Tillerson said in the statement.
The oil executive beat out several high profile candidates for the job, including Trump loyalist and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who took his name out of the running, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who had been a Trump critic during the campaign. Romney announced Monday that he was no longer in the running to be America’s chief diplomat.
Tillerson, who hits Exxon’s mandatory retirement age of 65 in March, has accepted Trump’s offer. He would be the first oil executive and only the second Texan to lead the State Department. If Trump’s choice is confirmed by the Senate, it would hand the job of the nation’s top diplomat to a man whose ties to Putin go back almost two decades at a time when possible Russian interference in the U.S. election is under scrutiny.
The prospect of a Tillerson nomination has already drawn some objections from lawmakers in both parties, who expressed concern about his extensive dealings with Putin. That suggests that the Exxon executive could face a messy Senate confirmation fight. Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida were among those who said they had questions about Tillerson’s dealings with Putin.
Confirmation hearings may also become a proxy fight over Trump’s position that Putin is an effective leader with whom he can reach agreements, a stance widely unpopular among lawmakers in both parties.