February 01, 2017

Van Hollen Statement in Opposition to Confirmation of Rex Tillerson

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen submitted the following statement to the congressional record on the vote to confirmRex Tillerson as Secretary of State:

"Mr. President, my father served in the Foreign Service at the Department of State, so I spent some of my early years overseas. I was proud to be part of a family that represented our great Country. I learned firsthand the critical role of our Nation's diplomats, the risks that they take to serve our Country, and the part that they play in spreading American ideals of freedom and democracy around the world.

"The cabinet position of Secretary of State is as old as our Nation. Thomas Jefferson served as President Washington's Secretary of State. The Secretary is the President's top foreign policy advisor and our nation's chief representative abroad. Today, the State Department reaches across the world, advancing our interests, shaping our relationships, advocating for human rights, and working to advance peace.

"In addition, the Secretary of State will encounter a department of employees who are deeply concerned about the role that they will play and the actions that they may be expected to take in service to the new President. Last week, the Washington Post reported that the State Department's entire senior management resigned, including officials who had worked in both Republican and Democratic administrations. This was an unprecedented loss of institutional knowledge.

"And by yesterday afternoon, a dissent letter by State Department staff saying that President Trump's executive order to temporarily bar citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries would not make the nation safer had attracted around 1,000 signatures, far more than any dissent cable in recent years.

"President Trump's campaign rhetoric has shaken our allies - wavering on our commitment to NATO, gratuitously escalating arguments with China and Mexico, and empowering an increasingly aggressive Russia. Mr. Trump has made fawning statements about Russian President Vladimir Putin. In October 2007, Mr. Trump said of Putin, "he's doing a great job." In December 2011, Mr. Trump praised Putin's "intelligence" and "no-nonsense way." In June 2013, Mr. Trump wondered if Putin would be his "new best friend." And in July 2015, Mr. Trump said, "I think I'd get along very well with Vladimir Putin."

"And Mr. Trump has questioned the reality of climate change. He tweeted, "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

"The Secretary of State thus must play a crucial role in maintaining relationships between the United States and our allies around the world. In the face of Mr. Trump's statements and actions, the need for a strong Secretary of State is all the more important.

"President Trump has nominated Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, to take on this critical role. Mr. Tillerson, who has never served in government, has spent many years building business relationships with Russia and Vladimir Putin, and in 2013 even received the Russian Order of Friendship, an award given to foreigners who work to improve relations with Russia.

"Mr. Tillerson has had particularly close dealings with Igor Sechin, the head of a state-owned Russian oil company whom the United States has sanctioned and banned from entering the United States.

'In 2014, Mr. Tillerson opposed sanctioning Russia for its actions in Ukraine, and reportedly lobbied the Government against those sanctions. According to Reuters, "[Tillerson] added that Exxon does not 'generally' support sanctions and has made that view known to the U.S. Government. . . . 'We're having conversations such that our views are being heard at the highest levels.' Tillerson told reporters." And yet, in his confirmation hearing, Mr. Tillerson denied that he or Exxon directly lobbied against the sanctions.

"Given Russia's interference with U.S. elections and Russia's increased provocation of our allies, we need to be able to rely on our Secretary of State to advance U.S. interests above all. Mr. Tillerson's long and close relationship with Russia casts doubt on his ability and inclination to pursue additional sanctions as necessary and on the quality of advice that he will give the President. And despite the active national conversation about Russia, Mr. Tillerson said in his hearing that he and President Trump had not even discussed Russian policy with any specificity.

"I am also concerned that Mr. Tillerson does not seem to view human rights as a critical issue for the State Department. In addition to refusing to condemn Russian and Syrian atrocities as war crimes, he did not condemn Philippine President Duterte's extrajudicial killings. This is particularly disturbing, as President Duterte has alleged that President Trump approves of his actions. Mr. Tillerson appeared hesitant to weigh in on human rights abuses. But the State Department cannot be silent, and must be an outspoken voice for human rights, even to our allies.

"Mr. Tillerson appears not to appreciate American's role as a beacon of light around the world that stands up for the rule of law and human rights. This is especially troubling, as President Trump's order last Friday to suspend America's refugee programs is an attack on everything for which our country stands. President Trump's order has made us less safe by playing into ISIS's propaganda, casting our fight against terrorism as a fight against an entire religion. That is not who we are as a nation. We must remain vigilant and resolute against efforts to sow fear and division, and we must fight together to protect the rights and freedoms of all people.

"President Trump's executive order highlights the need for a Secretary of State who will push back against President Trump's worst impulses. Mr. Tillerson, however, seems ready to do the opposite and reinforce many of President Trump's worst instincts. Mr. Tillerson's lack of focus on human rights and the rule of law indicate that he seems not to appreciate the role of America in the world - particularly dangerous traits when President Trump is retreating from America's 70-year special role in the world, retreating - in the words of a recent article in The Atlantic - to a pre-1941 world of "closed borders, limited trade, intolerance to diversity, arms races, and a go-it-alone national race to the bottom."

"Finally, I seriously question Mr. Tillerson's commitment to working with our allies and cosigners of the Paris Climate Agreement to confront one of our greatest global challenges. While at certain points, he has acknowledged the dangers of climate change, he has more recently questioned the science and the human contribution. In his hearing, he acknowledged that climate change does exist and that the United States needed to have a seat at the table, but he failed to express any urgency to respond or a clear commitment to the Paris Agreement.

"While Mr. Tillerson may be a skilled business dealmaker, the job of the Secretary of State and the leader of our State Department requires the experience and determination to meet our current challenges. Given his extensive ties to Russia and questionable commitment to advancing human rights and combatting climate change, I do not believe that Mr. Tillerson is the right person for this job, and I will vote against his confirmation."