Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Daines looks forward to conversation with Exxon CEO picked for secretary of state

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Tuesday that he would wait to meet Exxon Mobil Corp. CEO Rex Tillerson before passing judgement on his fitness to serve as the country’s secretary of state. 

“I haven’t had a chance to meet him. I look forward to conversations with him,” Daines said during a meeting Tuesday with the Chronicle’s editorial board. “After I have a chance to meet with him, to have a discussion, I’ll let you know.” 

President-elect Donald Trump announced Tillerson’s pick as the nation’s top diplomat on Tuesday. Under Tillerson, the oil and gas giant negotiated with Russia a $500 billion oil exploration deal in the Arctic Ocean. He shook Russian President Vladamir Putin’s hand on the deal. 

But it stalled after the U.S. and E.U. sanctioned Russia in response to its 2014 armed annexation of Crimea. Tillerson criticized the sanctions. 

Daines added that Tillerson had been recommended by Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush. Rice’s consulting firm works for Exxon Mobil.

“Let’s give a chance to sit down and talk with the guy first before we come up with a firm decision,” the Republican senator said.

Daines’ Republican colleague Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, whose presidential bid Daines supported, promised a tough hearing for Tillerson, saying that he wanted a secretary of state free of conflicting interests. 

 “While Rex Tillerson is a respected businessman, I have serious concerns about his nomination,” Rubio said in a prepared statement. 

 “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America’s foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., hasn’t decided to support or oppose the nomination.

“I am concerned about the number of reports linking Mr. Tillerson to Vladamir Putin and Russia,” Tester said in an email to the Chronicle on Tuesday. “In the coming months, I hope to ask Mr. Tillerson about his involvement in Russia, our national security, diplomacy, and his plans to address the ongoing conflicts around the world to ensure he is committed to the security of Montana and this nation.”

The U.S. Senate will hold hearings, and vote for or against Tillerson’s nomination next year. Republicans have a 52-seat majority in the 100 seat chamber.

According to its own historical primer on the nomination process, senators have rejected less than 2 percent of all cabinet nominees. The most recent was the 1989 rejection of John Tower, President George H.W. Bush’s nominee for secretary of defense.