The Latest: Trump Appoints ExxonMobil Boss as Secretary of State

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex W.Tillerson

On Tuesday, president-elect Donald Trump unveiled his pick for the Secretary of State position: Exxon Mobil’s CEO Rex W. Tillerson. The nomination triggered a new wave of criticism as opponents voiced their concerns over Tillerson’s ties with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin.

Trump’s transition team confirmed the nomination in the early hours of Monday. The announcement ends the controversy around who would be the best fit to serve as the nation’s top diplomat.

Top Contenders to Become Secretary of State

While some people said former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani makes a likely candidate for his loyalty to Trump, others bet on Mitt Romney. Other contenders included former CIA head David H. Petraeus and Senator Bob Corker.

Trump would have picked Giuliani, but quickly changed his mind when the media criticized Giuliani’s business connections with foreign leaders. Trump’s son-in-law confirmed Giuliani isn’t fit for the position.

The media started speculating that Romney may be next on the list despite calling president-elect names in the primaries. Romney was also a staunch critic of Russia during his presidential campaign in 2012. However, Trump’s team said a Romney nomination would alienate many of the real estate tycoon’s supporters.

In the end, Trump took his chances and named a controversial figure that may face fierce opposition in Senate. Three years ago, Moscow gave Tillerson the Order of Friendship for a two-decade-long fruitful collaboration. So, senators may want to learn more about ExxonMobil’s connections with Russia before confirmation.

Tillerson’s Business Ties with Russia

In addition, the U.S. energy giant pushed for billion-dollar partnerships with Russian businessmen which could unfurl only if the country lifts sanctions on Russia. On top of that, the new appointee has huge stakes in the country’s oil industry. So, these could influence his decisions as secretary of state when it comes to Russia, critics say. He has already voiced his discontent with the sanctions since they affect some of his company’s largest projects overseas.

ExxonMobil and the state-run energy giant Gazprom recently cut a deal to explore and drill in Siberia which could yield billions of dollars in profits. John McCain said Sunday he was very concerned about the potential nomination. He also pledged to examine the energy boss closely if he were selected while calling Putin a ‘thug’ and a ‘bully’ on Fox News.

Trump, on the other hand, praised Tillerson’s business expertise. The ExxonMobil boss boasts a 4-decade career with Exxon. He is an expert in oil and gas deals in the developing world including Venezuela and Kurdistan.

Fate of U.S. Sanctions against Russia Unclear

However, if Congress confirms his nomination, he would have to build a new set of skills: to promote alliances worldwide that are based on diplomacy not on business deals. This could prove challenging in Russia where his company struck important deals and even donated to the country’s social programs.

He could decide to lift sanctions on Russia even though Barack Obama said in November he would leave them in place at an European summit. Obama said the sanctions would stay until Russia withdraws from eastern Ukraine and agrees to a cease fire.

Republicans are also concerned about the nomination. On Monday, Senator Marco Rubio (R- Fla.) criticized the businessman for his close ties with Putin.

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