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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Bill Nelson rips Tillerson: 'Two words: Vladimir Putin'



WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bill Nelson announced this evening he will vote against Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

"Two words: Vladimir Putin," the Florida Democrat said.

Nelson is taking a step that fellow Florida Sen. A Marco Rubio will not, despite leading the charge in questioning Tillerson's Russian ties.

Nelson also raised the issue of climate change.

Below is the text of his speech on the Senate floor:

Mr. President, I rise to speak in opposition to the confirmation of Rex Tillerson, the president's nominee to be our next Secretary of State.

And I’ll tell you why. Two words: Vladimir Putin.

Mr. President, Rex Tillerson's ties to Russia have been widely reported. The senator from Massachusetts has outlined a number of them specifically --  specifically his ties to President Putin, who awarded him the “Order of Friendship” after signing deals with the state-owned oil company Rosneft.

Now isn’t the time to cozy up to Russia. Now is the time to stand up to Russian aggression—in Crimea, in Eastern Ukraine, and Syria. Just yesterday, we heard reports of another outbreak of fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in the war-torn Eastern Ukraine.

All you have to do, Mr. President, is speak to a Ukrainian and let them tell you, as I met with the former prime minister yesterday, and I will be meeting with a former member of their parliament -- let them tell you of what it's like to have the Russian army march on your country and take part of it away as they did with Crimea and then come in under the disguise of little green men as if they did not have ties to the Russian army, and that's going on in eastern Ukraine right now.

And, our own Intelligence Community has told us that the Russian President personally ordered a campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election right here in the US. That campaign—a mix of covert Russian operations, cyber-attacks and cyber operations and propaganda—was only the latest in a series of efforts to undermine American leadership and democracies around the world. And what’s coming next for the elections in Europe in the next few months

Russia is testing us. Mr. President, I’m concerned that Mr. Tillerson cannot stand up to the Russian President, who I am afraid thinks of himself as the next Russian czar.

So, as Mr. Tillerson’s past as Exxon’s CEO, he lobbied against sanctions on Russia for invading and seizing Crimea. The very sanctions that we and our allies have put on Russia for taking over sovereign territory of another independent country. And now it’s not clear—as our nation’s top diplomat—that Mr. Tillerson would fight to keep the sanctions in place, even as Mr. Trump is now considering lifting them and despite clear evidence of Russia’s continued aggression.

And, during his confirmation hearing, Mr. Tillerson refused to condemn Russian and Syrian bombings in Aleppo as war crimes, a question that was proffered to him by the senator, my colleague, who happens to sit in the chair right now.

Mr. President, I also have serious concerns that Mr. Tillerson doesn't understand the urgent need to combat climate change.

You don't have to remind us about climate change in Florida. South Florida is ground zero of climate change. Miami Beach is awash at the seasonal high tides as the water flows over the curbs and over the streets, causing Miami Beach to spend hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars to install pump stations, raise the roads, and address all kinds of flooding and saltwater intrusion. Other south Florida communities have had to move their water well locations further west because of the intrusion of south Florida into the fresh water aquifer.

Climate change is not a problem that we’re going to face some day in the future. It’s a daily struggle for our communities along our coast all over America. The state department -- the United States State Department is responsible for engaging with other countries to confront both the cause of climate change and the devastating impact of drought, sea level, and sea-level rise and severe weather.

And by the way, speaking of sea level rise, this senator convened a meeting of the Senate commerce committee in Miami Beach a couple of years ago. We had testimony from a NASA scientist that measurements – not forecasts, not projections – but measurements in the last 40 years of sea level rise in south Florida was five to eight inches higher. That is sea level rise.

That's why even the Department of Defense is concerned. Climate change has the potential to destabilize nations. How about Bangladesh? It has the potential to drastically reduce potable water supplies and result in crop loss and food shortage and to create climate refugees. We simply cannot play fast and loose with the science that will help save our planet.

The top diplomat of our country has to confront the reality of climate change today and to work on it immediately. Mr. Tillerson has not adequately laid out a plan to address that global climate crisis.

And so for all the reasons that I have outlined, including many more, Mr. President, I will vote no.

[Last modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 12:45pm]


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