1. Florida Politics

Sen. Marco Rubio backs down from opposition to Rex Tillerson, clearing way for confirmation

The nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state was advanced by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a party-line vote.
Published Jan. 24, 2017

WASHINGTON — After weeks of buildup over a showdown with President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, Sen. Marco Rubio on Monday backed down and voted for Rex Tillerson, ensuring the former ExxonMobil CEO will have a smooth confirmation with the overall Senate.

The Florida Republican reclaimed national attention for aggressively questioning Tillerson during a Foreign Relations Committee hearing earlier this month, asking if Russian President Vladimir Putin was a "war criminal," a term Tillerson avoided.

In voting favorably for Tillerson in the committee Monday, Rubio avoided a clash with Trump and his supporters. Rubio faced pressure from GOP leaders who are keen to get along with Trump after a tumultuous election. Tillerson, 64, personally appealed to Rubio.

"Had he opposed Tillerson, it wouldn't have been wise. It would have appeared as sour grapes," said Chuck Larson, a prominent Republican in Iowa who backed Trump. "Republicans across the country are very excited about President Trump and the immediate changes he is bringing to our government. I compliment Sen. Rubio for his thoughtful review."

At the same time, Rubio disappointed and outraged those who wanted to see a prominent voice of opposition to Trump on Capitol Hill.

The development underscores the altered political reality for Rubio, who clashed bitterly with Trump in the presidential primary and kept a distance even while supporting Trump as the nominee, maintaining he would be a check on executive power. On Monday, Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal Rubio once championed but had lost favor with as Trump blamed such deals for killing American jobs.

Rubio said he still has reservations about Tillerson, who initially supported Jeb Bush's campaign for president.

"Despite his extensive experience in Russia and his personal relationship with many of its leaders, he claimed he did not have sufficient information to determine whether Putin and his cronies were responsible for ordering the murder of countless dissidents, journalists, and political opponents," Rubio wrote in a lengthy Facebook post hours before the Foreign Relations Committee vote.

Rubio cited other concerns, including Tillerson saying he would need more information before acknowledging human rights violations in China, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

But the Florida lawmaker added: "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."

In a statement at the meeting, Rubio said his paramount concern was that Tillerson's approach to foreign policy would be as a dealmaker. "I stand ready to help him succeed," Rubio said. Later, surrounded by reporters, Rubio said that it "remains to be seen" if Tillerson would be tough on Russia but that the nominee allayed other concerns.

No Republican voted against Tillerson on Monday, while every Democrat did, 11-10 in favor as a result. Had Rubio joined with Democrats, he would have complicated Tillerson's vote on the Senate floor but not changed the likelihood of confirmation. On Sunday, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who share Rubio's hawkish foreign policy stances, announced they would support Tillerson.

Rubio made a splash in December when Tillerson emerged as Trump's pick over more conventional choices, such as Mitt Romney. "Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState," Rubio wrote on Twitter.

Then came Tillerson's Jan. 11 appearance before the Foreign Relations Committee and tough questioning from Rubio. When the lawmaker pressed on Russian activity in Aleppo, Syria, and noted enemies of Putin have ended up dead, Tillerson demurred, saying he'd need more information.

"None of this is classified," Rubio shot back, his tone markedly different from the lighter touch of other Republicans on the panel, including chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Rubio garnered much attention — as he entered the committee room Monday afternoon, photojournalists rushed to him — and will be closely watched as the Trump administration gets under way.

"I think he legitimately, sincerely was worried about some of the issues he brought up," said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett. "But clearly, some of it was political. He really made it quite a show. I think he's proven he will ask tough questions but Republicans have unified party control and he doesn't want to ruin that early on. A few days past the inauguration is not the time to say Republicans are not on the same page."


  1. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  2. Richard Swearingen, Florida's Commissioner of the Department of Law Enforcement, testifies before state lawmakers on Monday. Florida Channel
    But law enforcement officials are getting behind a “threat assessment system.”
  3. Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, urges the Florida Board of Education to hold schools accountable for teaching the Holocaust and African-American history, as required by lawmakers in 1994. The board was considering a rule on the matter at its Sept. 20, 2019, meeting in Jacksonville. The Florida Channel
    School districts will have to report how they are providing the instruction required in Florida law.
  4. The Mar-a-Lago Resort in Palm Beach. JOE RAEDLE  |  Getty Images
    It wasn’t immediately clear how much Mar-a-Lago would charge to host the Marine Corps Birthday Ball — or even if it might do so for free.
  5. In this March 24, 2018, file photo, crowds of people participate in the March for Our Lives rally in support of gun control in San Francisco. JOSH EDELSON  |  AP
    ‘Guns are always a volatile topic in the halls of the legislature,’ one Republican said.
  6. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  7. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  8. In this April 11, 2018, file photo, a high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Mass.  [AP Photo | Steven Senne] STEVEN SENNE  |  AP
    "The department does not appear to have the authority to do anything.”
  9. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  10. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.