Betraying an earlier tough stance, Sen. Marco Rubio announced Monday he would be voting in favor of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be confirmed as secretary of State, all but assuring the controversial climate denier and oil titan will become the top U.S. diplomat under the Trump administration.
"We need a separation of oil and state, not a marriage." —David Turnbull, Oil Change InternationalDuring the confirmation process, Rubio emerged as one of the most vocal Republican critics of Tillerson, largely based on the nominee's friendly relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
But as environmental and social justice groups continued their efforts Monday to block Tillerson's appointment, Rubio announced on his Facebook page that he would set aside his concerns regarding "democracy and human rights" for the sake of so-called "national interests."
Mr. Tillerson is likely to have a potentially unprecedented level of influence over the direction of our foreign policy. I remain concerned that in the years to come, our country will not give the defense of democracy and human rights the priority they deserve, and will pursue a foreign policy that too often sets aside our values and our historic alliances in pursuit of flawed geopolitical deals.
But in making my decision on his nomination, I must balance these concerns with his extensive experience and success in international commerce, and my belief that the president is entitled to significant deference when it comes to his choices for the cabinet. Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson's nomination in committee and in the full Senate.
Now that Rubio has joined other Republican holdouts Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John McCain (Ariz.) in reluctantly backing Tillerson, he is "expected to be confirmed once the full Senate holds its vote," The Hill reports.
Environmental campaigners—who oppose Tillerson's appointment because of the threat he poses to global efforts to tackle climate change (350.org co-founder Bill McKibben has described him as "Big Oil personified")—were aghast over what they described as Rubio's "cowardice" in the face of White House pressure.
"This is the time to act boldly against corruption, not welcome it into the most senior federal positions in our country." —Jason Kowalski, 350.org
"In the next four years, we are going to need courage from our elected leaders, not cowardice, in the face of the Trump presidency," David Turnbull, campaigns director for Oil Change International, told Common Dreams in an email. "Senator Rubio's decision to vote for Tillerson despite his clear reservations shows he is bowing to White House pressure, despite massive opposition from the public to the Tillerson nomination."
"We expect any Senator that truly cares about protecting our communities from the ravages of climate change to vote against the climate-denying Tillerson nomination when it comes to the Senate floor," he added. "We need a separation of oil and state, not a marriage."
Also in response, 350.org U.S. policy director Jason Kowalski pointed to the home states of Rubio, McCain, and Graham and the likely "ravages" they will experience as a consequence of Tillerson's appointment.
"Senators Rubio, Graham and McCain are handing the keys of our international climate diplomacy over to a rogue oil mogul," Kowalski said. "Even as Florida sinks, South Carolina is drenched by biblical-like floods, and Arizona hits record temperatures, these senators are caving under pressure from Trump."
"Our elected officials should be alarmed that Tillerson, who helmed a company that lied to the public for decades about climate change, could be in charge of our country's foreign policy," he continued. "This is the time to act boldly against corruption, not welcome it into the most senior federal positions in our country."
As Monday's scheduled confirmation vote approached, many groups—including Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, and many others—continued to urge their members and U.S. residents to call their senators to vote against Tillerson and were using the #RejectRex social media hashtag to voice their opposition:
— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) January 23, 2017
— Sierra Club (@SierraClub) January 20, 2017
— MoveOn.org (@MoveOn) January 23, 2017