Congress

Rex Tillerson impressed Democratic senator during Capitol Hill meetings

Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, left, meets with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the committee that will conduct Tillerson's confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, left, meets with Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the committee that will conduct Tillerson's confirmation hearing, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP

Rex Tillerson came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, making his pitch to senators who will likely decide in a week if the former ExxonMobil CEO will become Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

Tillerson, a born and raised Texan who has spent his entire career with Exxon, mostly met with various senators in private and ignored shouted questions from the media on Wednesday.

Delaware Democratic Sen. Chris Coons described his private meeting with Tillerson as “generally positive” and said he will decide on Tillerson’s confirmation after public hearings next week.

“I was encouraged by his attitude, his approach, his openness and willingness to answer important questions and he clearly has a wide range of experience around the world,” Coons said after a 90-minute private conversation with Tillerson. “We spent a fair amount of time understanding whether or not Mr. Tillerson understands the difference between the role of CEO of a publicly traded company, where your goal is to promote shareholder value, and the role of secretary of state where you’re fighting for America’s values.”

Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saved most of his criticism for Trump. When asked about Tillerson’s relationship with Russia and his $180 million retirement payout from Exxon, Coons pivoted to expressing disapproval with Trump declining to release his tax returns.

Tillerson reportedly talked tough on Russia with other senators on Wednesday, but Coons did not go into detail when asked about Tillerson’s views on Russia.

“I was encouraged with his clarity with his difference in the role of being CEO of an oil company and secretary of state,” Coons said. “We talked at length about what he sees as America’s core interests and what he sees as the role of press freedom and human rights. But I think we should wait until he has the opportunity to answer those questions on the record to reach any formal conclusions.”

Coons said he was encouraged that Tillerson told him he would “step up and speak” to Trump regarding foreign policy issues.

“I am as concerned if not more concerned with what the president-elect’s views are going to be on the neutrality of NATO and border security and the importance of pushing back on Putin and Russia,” Coons said.

The Democrat expressed displeasure towards Republican senators like foreign relations chair Bob Corker, who scheduled Tillerson’s confirmation hearing in the middle of important upcoming votes.

“I am concerned given that we may very well be in a 24-hour vote-a-rama ... that we will be significantly distracted,” Coons said. “We may well, as a body, been up all night and be in the middle of voting on dozens and dozens of amendments. That’s really not an appropriate time to be trying to also conduct thoughtful, serious, thorough discussions with a nominee to be secretary of state.”

Tillerson’s hearing with the foreign relations committee is set for Jan. 11 and 12.

Alex Daugherty: 202-383-6049, @alextdaugherty

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