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Trump taps Rex Tillerson for secretary of state

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is President-elect Donald

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson is President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the State Department. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Nicholas Kamm

President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday announced ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson as his choice for secretary of state, but the appointment may face a Senate confirmation fight.

Tillerson has close ties to Russian leader Vladimir Putin amid deals between ExxonMobil and the federation, and senators on both sides of the aisle expressed reservations about Tillerson serving as the United States’ top diplomat.

Trump in a statement lauded Tillerson’s “tenacity, broad experience and deep understanding of geopolitics.”

The president-elect is also expected to appoint former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the post of secretary of energy, according to several news reports.

Transition aides would not confirm the selection, but communications director Jason Miller characterized Perry to reporters as “very skilled, very talented” and attributed economic growth in Texas under Perry’s leadership to its energy sector.

Perry had said during a 2011 presidential campaign debate that he wanted to dismantle the Department of Energy, among others, but had trouble remembering the agency’s name.

Meanwhile, Trump senior adviser Sean Spicer noted to reporters that Tillerson rose through the ranks at ExxonMobil after a childhood of economic hardship in Texas, embodying the “American-dream story of rags to riches.”

Tillerson’s career with the multinational oil and gas corporation spans four decades.

His pending nomination comes after a drawn-out selection process, during which New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) were also considered.

Trump tweeted that Tillerson has “vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.”

Corker, who leads the Senate committee that will consider the nomination at a hearing early next month, commended Tillerson’s “extraordinary working knowledge of the world.”

But Democratic ranking member Ben Cardin of Maryland and a GOP member of the committee, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, were among those with concerns about the appointment.

Cardin in a statement said he is “deeply troubled by Mr. Tillerson’s vocal opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia following its illegal invasion, occupation and annexation of Crimea, Ukraine, and his close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin.”

Rubio, a primary rival to Trump, issued a statement about his “serious concerns,” saying, “The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America’s interests.”

In a report that Trump has rejected, the CIA said Russian officials hacked Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign aide emails in an effort to influence the U.S. presidential election. Senate leaders have planned a bipartisan commission to probe reports of the Russians’ meddling.

Asked what evidence the president-elect is using to refute the CIA’s findings, Miller said Tuesday that the “entire narrative” has been “just an attempt to try and delegitimize President-elect Trump’s win.”

Also Tuesday, several news outlets reported Trump has tapped Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), a former Navy SEAL, to be secretary of the interior, but it was not immediately clear whether the freshman congressman accepted the offer.

With Laura Figueroa

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