ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson delivers remarks on the release of a report by the National Petroleum Council on oil drilling in the Arctic, on March 27, 2015, in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Exxon’s Rex Tillerson gets by with a little help from his friends

In theory, Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees shouldn’t expect too much resistance: when a Republican White House is working with a Republican-led Senate, and Democrats can’t filibuster nominees, the outcome is effectively predetermined.

But ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s choice to be the nation’s next Secretary of State, poses a challenge. Tillerson has literally no background in diplomacy or public service, and against the backdrop of a scandal involving a Russian espionage operation intended to help put Trump in the White House, it’s problematic that the president-elect chose Vladimir Putin’s closest American ally for Trump’s top cabinet post.

In a 52-48 Senate, the margin for error is modest. What’s more, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the GOP advantage is just one member – 10 to 9 – giving some Trump critics hope that Tillerson may become the first Secretary of State nominee in history to be derailed on Capitol Hill.

The Washington Post reported that Tillerson has some very powerful friends who are eager to prevent that from happening.
At the start of the week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) seemed bent on opposing the nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.

By the end of it, Rubio had heard directly from former vice president Richard B. Cheney, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation, as well as other key supporters of the ExxonMobil chief executive.
The same article noted that Robert McNair, a Texas-based GOP donor who gave $500,000 to a super PAC supporting Rubio’s failed presidential campaign, also indicated he’s prepared to push Rubio to support Tillerson’s nomination.

It’s quite a combination of influential backers. Lawmakers are hearing from Republican donors (from the oil industry), Dick Cheney (a former oil executive), and even George W. Bush (another former oil executive), each of whom want the ExxonMobil CEO in charge of the State Department, despite Tillerson’s obvious lack of qualifications.

The future nominee is also receiving endorsements from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Bob Gates – both of whom happen to be on ExxonMobil’s payroll.

There are only a few constituencies Republican policymakers simply will not cross. One of them is the oil industry. It wouldn’t take much to tip the scales in the Senate against Tillerson, but it would take an awful lot to get a few GOP senators to cross Big Oil.

In a separate report last week, the Washington Post added that the oil, gas, and coal industries are “amassing power throughout Washington,” and “enjoying a remarkable resurgence as its executives and lobbyists shape President-elect Donald Trump’s policy agenda and staff his administration.”

When Trump assured voters he’d “drain the swamp” of special-interest influence, he neglected to mention the water would be replaced by oil.