Rubio announces support for Trump secretary of state nominee Tillerson

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson at a conference in London in October. Exxon Mobil said Tuesday it is cutting its drilling budget to a 10-year low and halting share buybacks after last year’s belt-tightening failed to shield the world’s biggest oil explorer from crashing energy markets. credit: Bloomberg photo by Chris Ratcliffe.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will vote for President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, he announced Monday, resolving the final major question surrounding Rex Tillerson’s bid to be confirmed as the nation’s top diplomat.

While Tillerson’s confirmation was effectively sealed on Sunday, Rubio’s decision provides a boost to the former ExxonMobil chief executive. The Florida Republican had expressed serious reservations about Tillerson and waited until the last possible day to announce his vote.

“Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy,” Rubio said in a lengthy statement posted on Facebook. “Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate.”

Rubio announced his decision just hours before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which he is a member, planned to vote on Tillerson. The nominee is now expected to receive majority support in the committee before winning confirmation during a full Senate vote.

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Rubio’s backing came after weeks of deliberation and an intense behind-the-scenes effort by Tillerson allies to win him over.

Tillerson was the first big test of how Rubio plans to deal with Trump, with whom he clashed in the campaign. By voting yes, he will spare himself what his allies anticipated would have been an angry backlash from the new administration in private.

Tillerson’s fate was all but sealed Sunday when Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., announced their support for him. Like Rubio, McCain and Graham voiced worries about Tillerson’s ties to Russia.

Rubio was getting an onslaught of calls, texts and notes urging him to back Tillerson, those close to him said.

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Rubio donors and other supporters who served as Tillerson boosters reached out early and often to try to nudge the senator to back Trump’s nominee. He heard from former vice president Richard Cheney late last year.

Last week, Rubio held a meeting with Tillerson, now-Vice President Mike Pence and now White House Chief of staff Reince Priebus, according to two people familiar with the meeting. The people spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private gathering.