Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, right, listens to Rex W. Tillerson, chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corporation at their meeting outside Moscow, April 16, 2012.
Photo by Alexei Nikolsky/Government Press Service/RIA-Novosti/AP

For Secretary of State, Trump taps Putin ally, Exxon CEO

Updated
We’ve known for nearly a week that Donald Trump was likely to choose ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State, but until there was an official announcement, it seemed implausible. In fact, I’ll confess, I didn’t expect him to go through with it.

The president-elect, facing allegations that the Russian government intervened illegally in the U.S. election to get Trump elected, would choose Vladimir Putin’s top American ally for his most important cabinet post? The Republican who vowed to “drain the swamp” of special-interest influence in Washington would put the State Department in the hands of an oil giant’s CEO?

It sounds like the plot to a ridiculous movie that audiences would dismiss as insultingly unrealistic – and yet, here we are.
Donald Trump officially announced his plan Tuesday to nominate ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state. The pick was widely anticipated.

Tillerson, 64, has ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin – something his critics have pounced on him for. His relations with foreign leaders could pose complications in his confirmation process.
Tillerson, who has spent his entire adult life working at ExxonMobil, has no experience in government or in diplomacy. In fact, if confirmed, Tillerson would join an unprecedented and hard-to-fathom operation: in the Trump administration, the combined foreign policy experience of the president, Secretary of State, and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations is quite literally zero. Americans have simply never seen such a team.

What Tillerson has done, however, is work closely with Vladimir Putin, and spoken out in opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia – the country accused of criminal intervention in the American political system. When making the case for Tillerson over the weekend, Trump boasted to Fox News, “He does massive deals in Russia.”

To be sure, that’s true – one such deal may have been as large as a half-trillion dollars – though it’s unclear why Americans should find that impressive in the nation’s chief diplomat, especially if being Putin’s top U.S. ally appears to be Tillerson’s only selling point.

Rachel added on the show last night, ExxonMobil, one of the most profitable businesses in the history of global capitalism, is so big, it sometimes has its own foreign policy, which occasionally is at odds with American foreign policy.

For more details on Tillerson’s background, I’d encourage folks to revisit two segments from the show last week: this one, detailing his long history with Putin, and this one, exploring Tillerson’s business opportunities in Russia.

But as the scrutiny begins in earnest, it’s also worth noting that Trump’s choice may not find the confirmation process easy. The Washington Post reminded us yesterday if just three Senate Republicans join Democrats in opposition to Tillerson, his nomination “would be dead” – and Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Marco Rubio have already raised concerns.

I’d add that even making it to the Senate floor might be tough. Tillerson’s nomination will be sent to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for evaluation, and the committee will have a narrow GOP majority: 10 members to 9. If Dems on the committee collectively balk at the idea of putting an inexperienced Putin ally in charge of American diplomacy, and just one Republican joins them, Tillerson’s nomination would likely die before being sent to the full Senate for consideration.

And Sens. Rubio, Rand Paul, and Jeff Flake are all on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Marveling at the absurdity of Trump’s choice is certainly the natural reaction, but no one should assume that Tillerson will actually become the next Secretary of State.

Postscript: How in the world did the ExxonMobil CEO make it onto Trump’s radar in the first place? I saw some speculation that Russian officials may have simply urged the transition team to consider Tillerson, but Politico reported the other day that Tillerson “was brought into Trump Tower for an interview with Trump at the recommendation of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who count Exxon among their private consulting clients.”

Meet the new swamp. It’s slightly worse than the old swamp.