Live Blog

Senate Confirmation Hearings: Day 2

Lawmakers will question Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, and Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary nominee. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, will appear in front of a Senate committee for the second day.

Rex Tillerson Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Senate confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees are continuing into their second day Wednesday.

On the docket are Rex Tillerson, the Exxon oil executive who the president-elect wants for secretary of state, and Elaine Chao, the former labor secretary who he’s nominated to head the Department of Transportation. The hearing for attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, the Alabama senator, will also continue Wednesday, as both his supporters and detractors are slated to offer testimony in front of lawmakers.

The president-elect, meanwhile, is scheduled to hold his first press conference in 167 days—one that comes less than 24 hours after a “bombshell” CNN report reinvigorated public scrutiny of Trumpworld’s relationship with Russia and that country’s interference in November’s election.

We’ll bring you the latest updates from Capitol Hill as events unfold. Also see our continuing coverage:

Updates

This live blog has concluded

Kaine Asks Tillerson: Did Exxon Know About Global Warming in the 1970s?

Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia listens to Rex Tillerson’s testimony on Wednesday (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, refused to say what the company knew about climate change—and when—despite an insistent line of questioning from Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

Kaine pointed to a slew of recent press investigations that have asserted Exxon’s in-house climate scientists knew about the dangers of human-caused climate change by the late 1970s. Both The Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News have found that while Exxon long led the way on climate research, it began sowing public doubts about climate science by 1990. Eventually, it funded groups who publicly promulgated climate denial, they reported. Exxon denies the allegations.

“ExxonMobil concluded as early as the 1970s that pollution from CO₂ released by the burning of fossil fuels was affecting the climate in a potentially disruptive way,” Kaine said, citing the reports. “Despite this knowledge, ExxonMobil took public positions against the scientific consensus regarding climate science.”

This all happened during your tenure in the company, Kaine said. Are these allegations true of false?

“Senator, since I’m no longer with ExxonMobil, I’m in no position to speak on their behalf. The question would have to be put to them,” Tillerson replied.

Kaine said he wasn’t looking for ExxonMobil’s response: “You were with the company for 42 years?”

“That is correct,” Tillerson said.

And you were in management or an executive role for more than half of that time, Kaine asserted.

“For approximately half the time,” Tillerson said.

“And you became CEO in 2006?”

“Correct,” Tillerson said.

Kaine asked his question again—so are the allegations true or false?—and Tillerson again demurred.

“Let me ask you, do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to answer my question?” Kaine said.

“A little of both,” Tillerson said.

The room guffawed.

“I have a hard time believing you lack the knowledge to answer my question, but that’s an editorial comment, just as your comment was an editorial comment,” Kaine said. He followed up by asking whether Tillerson was still bound by a confidentiality agreement. Tillerson said he wasn’t, but that he would have to check with a lawyer.

It won’t be the last time that we hear about whether Exxon knew about the reality of climate change before most of the American public did. Eric Schneiderman, New York’s state attorney general, is using racketeering laws to investigate Exxon’s history of climate denial; he is currently fighting for access to the company’s climate files. And it was in response to that lawsuit that another state attorney general, Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt, wrote an op-ed for the National Review seeding doubts about climate change and rejecting Schneiderman’s legal approach.

This time next month, Pruitt, who is now Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Tillerson could be more than allies in the public sphere. They could be colleagues in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Tillerson Breaks With Trump on Nuclear Weapons

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Does Rex Tillerson agree with President-elect Donald Trump that it wouldn’t be a bad thing if countries like Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia had nuclear weapons?

“I do not agree,” Trump’s nominee for secretary of state replied when Democratic Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts posed the question on Wednesday afternoon.

It was a rare break between Tillerson and Trump, who made those comments during his presidential campaign. In truth, Trump’s position on nuclear weapons remains unclear: He’s said at times that he doesn’t support proliferation. But his most recent statement that the U.S. should “expand its nuclear capability,” made in an apparently unprompted tweet in December, sparked fears that the president-elect would start a new arms race.

Tillerson made clear he does not support that approach. “I don’t think anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet,” he said. He added later that U.S. policy “has to be the pursuit of nuclear non-proliferation.” Markey noted that Tillerson’s comments were “at odds” with what Trump has been quoted as saying.

Tillerson didn’t dispute that characterization, but he said that within the parameters of the New Start treaty—an arms-reduction accord negotiated by the Obama administration with Russia—the U.S. should maintain its current capability by ensuring that its stock of nuclear weapons is up-to-date and may be deployed if needed.

Tillerson Calls Mexico a 'Longstanding Friend and Neighbor'

(Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey, pressed Rex Tillerson on Donald Trump’s derogatory remarks about Mexicans, and asked the secretary of state nominee whether he agreed with the president-elect’s past characterization of Mexicans as criminals and rapists. Tillerson replied: “I would never characterize an entire population with any single term at all.”

He added: “Mexico is a longstanding friend and neighbor of this country.”

The reply illustrates the kinds of questions Tillerson is likely to have to answer if he is confirmed, given Trump’s often impolitic, and seemingly impromptu, utterances on foreign policy.

Rubio and Tillerson Clash Again Over Philippines, Saudi Arabia

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senator Marco Rubio and Rex Tillerson clashed for a second time on Wednesday, this time over the question of human-rights violations in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia.

At one point, the increasingly frustrated nominee for secretary of state suggested Rubio had “a misunderstanding” of how he views the world. Earlier in the hearing, Rubio had pressed Tillerson on alleged atrocities perpetrated by Russians on the orders of Vladimir Putin. In a second round of questioning in the afternoon, he did the same with regard to Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines president who has bragged about personally killing people and has insisted that President-elect Donald Trump endorsed his violent crackdown on drug offenders.

Rubio cited a Los Angeles Times report that 6,200 people had been killed by police and vigilantes in drug raids in the Philippines, and asked Tillerson if he believed that was the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign. Tillerson responded not by condemning the killings, but by noting that the United States and the Philippines have “a long-standing friendship” and it was important that it stay that way.

Rubio pressed him again, and Tillerson replied: “It’s an area that I’d want to understand in greater detail in terms of the facts on the ground.” Rubio became annoyed that Tillerson repeatedly noted that he did not yet have access to classified intelligence briefings, a reason he used in the morning to dodge direct questions about Putin. “What’s happening in the Philippines is not an intelligence issue. It’s being openly reported,” Rubio told him.

The Florida Republican then moved on to Saudi Arabia and tried to get Tillerson to label the nominal U.S. ally a human-rights violator. Tillerson wouldn’t go that far. “I would need to have greater information, senator, in order to make a true determination of that,” he said. Rubio shot back: “You’re not familiar with Saudi Arabia, what life is like for women? They can't drive. People jailed and lashed.”

“I’m familiar with all of that,” Tillerson replied. He explained, however, that the decision whether to label a nation a human-rights violator needs to be made in the context of the broader U.S. interest and relationship with that country.

“Our interests are not different, senator,” Tillerson continued. “There seems to be some misunderstanding that somehow I see the world through a different lens. And I do not. I share all of the same values that you share and want the same things for people the world over in terms of freedoms.”

The exchange ended there, but it seemed that Tillerson had again missed an opportunity to win over a Republican he may desperately need. Rubio did appear more satisfied with earlier replies from Tillerson on the topic of Cuba, when he testified that he would recommend that Trump veto legislation lifting the travel ban and trade embargo with the island nation. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio is a staunch opponent of the Obama administration’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba.

Congressman John Lewis Testifies at the Sessions Hearing

Mark Humphrey / AP

Congressman John Lewis testified at Senator Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing—not directly addressing the prospective attorney general’s record, but speaking about civil-rights concerns. As the last surviving member of the “Big Six” leaders of civil-rights organizations that led the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis was perhaps the highest-profile leader of the movement to speak at a Sessions hearing—both of which have probed the lawmaker’s civil-rights record and allegations of racism against him.

Lewis’s and Sessions’s histories are connected through their civil-rights records. One of Lewis’s close friends, Albert Turner, helped organize the famous 1965 walk from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, as well as the ill-fated “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. That march was one of Lewis’s signature civil-rights moments. Turner then went into politics in Alabama, and along with his wife Evelyn and activist Spencer Hogue became part of the “Marion Three,” a prominent group of black politicians in the state. As U.S. attorney in Mobile, Sessions led a 1985 effort to prosecute the three for alleged voter fraud. That effort was dogged by allegations of racism against Sessions, and eventually the Turners and Hogue were acquitted, with over half of the evidence brought forward by Sessions’s office thrown out. Civil-rights leaders, like Coretta Scott King, would go on to testify against his 1986 nomination to a federal judgeship on the grounds of that alleged racism.

Lewis merely alluded to that history in brief remarks today. “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s ‘calls to law and order’ will mean the same thing today as they did then in rural Alabama,” Lewis said, seemingly casting doubt on Sessions’s own commitment to equal justice. The term “law and order” has carried connotations of racism throughout the history of its usage. Nevertheless, Senator Chuck Grassley praised Sessions, in a statement preceding the hearing, as a “leader for law and order administered without regard to person.”

Lewis spent most of his allotted time giving a broad overview of the history of civil rights and an accounting of what might be lost in civil-rights challenges moving forward. But toward the end, he addressed Sessions directly. “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you,” Lewis said, “but we need someone who will stand up, speak up, and speak out for the people that need help.” Left unsaid was whether Lewis believes Sessions can do the standing and the speaking.

Booker: Sessions Lacks 'Desire, Intention, or Will' to Defend Civil Rights

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

In his unprecedented testimony against fellow senator Jeff Sessions, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker warned that his Alabama colleague’s record did not indicate a “desire, intention, or will” to fight for civil rights and equal justice.

Booker became the first sitting senator to testify against a colleague’s nomination for a Cabinet post on Wednesday when he urged the Judiciary Committee to oppose Sessions’ bid to become the next U.S. attorney general. In prepared remarks lasting about five minutes, Booker focused on the themes of civil rights, equal rights, and justice for all. Sessions’ career as a public servant, Booker said, “demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions, and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals.”

His testimony came during the last panel session in Sessions’ two-day confirmation battle, which saw contentious exchanges between Democrats who raised concerns about Sessions’ civil-rights record and Republicans who largely praised the Alabama senator as an ideal choice to become the nation’s top law enforcement official. Unlike the other hearing panels, legislators asked neither Booker nor the other five witnesses on the final slate any questions.

For Booker, Sessions’ confirmation would pose a serious threat to the metaphorical “arc of justice” that represented America’s progress on civil rights and racial equality. “If confirmed, Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates that he won’t,” Booker testified. “He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but his record indicates he won’t.”

Booker also criticized Sessions for lacking the “courageous empathy” to pursue criminal-justice reform, a key issue for the New Jersey senator. He cited his personal history living in high-crime neighborhoods and recent revelations of policing abuses in American cities like Newark, where Booker once served as mayor before his rapid rise to a Senate seat in the 2012 election.

Republican critics like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton had dismissed Booker’s testimony as an effort to continue that rise, perhaps as an opening salvo in a possible 2020 presidential bid. So too did a witness who testified on Sessions’ behalf. William Smith, a black former Senate staffer who spoke glowingly of Sessions, told the Judiciary Committee that the hearing “should be about facts, not political aspirations.”

Elaine Chao's Open-and-Shut Confirmation Hearing

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The confirmation hearing for Elaine Chao, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of transportation, has concluded. Chao hails from the political establishment, having served as labor secretary under George W. Bush and as deputy secretary of transportation in his father’s administration. Thanks in part to those years of experience, she’s one of the least controversial of Trump’s nominees, and is widely expected to be confirmed. Compared with other Trump nominees facing hearings on Wednesday, Chao faced friendly questioning.

Chao was introduced by her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who jested that “she’s incredibly capable and she’s got really great judgment ... on a whole variety of things.” Chao, who was heavily involved in her husband’s 2014 reelection campaign, could be a link between establishment Republicans and the incoming administration.

In her opening statement, Chao said that she sought to “unleash the potential” of private investment and find “innovative financial tools” for federal transportation and infrastructure projects, as well as pursue private-public partnerships. “The government doesn’t have the resources to do it all,” Chao said. As for the looming bankruptcy of the Highway Trust Fund—which uses money gleaned from the federal gas tax for government spending on roads, highways, bridges, tunnels and public transit—Chao said it’s a “top priority” of the Trump administration, but did not offer any specific solutions.

The committee also questioned Chao on Trump’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Democratic Senator Cory Booker, citing $137 million in tax breaks to private investors in Trump’s plan, asked Chao directly: “Will you and President-elect Trump support an infrastructure plan that involves direct federal spending?”

After a pause, Chao replied: “I believe the answer is yes.”

Trump has been quiet about his infrastructure plan since the election, and after Wednesday’s hearing, its details remain scant. But Chao could be an important voice lobbying Congress to support it.

Tillerson Says Kerry Speech on Israel Was 'Quite Troubling'

Andrew Harnik / AP

Rex Tillerson was no fan of the speech Secretary of State John Kerry gave in which he rebuked Israel over its continued construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In a rare piece of criticism for the man he would replace, Tillerson on Wednesday said Kerry’s late December address was “quite troubling because of the attacks on Israel and in many ways undermining the government of Israel itself in terms of its own legitimacy and the talks.” Kerry delivered the speech in part to defend the U.S.’s decision to abstain from a U.N. resolution condemning Israel for the settlements. Tillerson said that resolution, which the incoming Trump team had tried to stop, was “not helpful.”

Trump has vowed to ease the tensions between the U.S. and Israel that have accumulated during the Obama administration, largely as a result of the strained relationship between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel, Tillerson said, “remains our most important ally in the region.”

His comments came in response to a question from GOP Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, were his first extended remarks on Israel during his confirmation hearing.

Cory Booker Is Testifying Against His Own Colleague

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The afternoon portion of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing has just begun. It will be an unusual session: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker will testify against Sessions’s nomination for attorney general. According to Booker’s office, a sitting senator has never testified against one of his or her colleagues’ nominations for a Cabinet post.

Senators frequently refer to the Senate as the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” citing its adherence to decorum and its long tradition of collegiality between members. In a statement on his decision to breach that comity, Booker said the “immense powers of the attorney general combined with the deeply troubling views of this nominee” were a “call to conscience.” His move drew some criticism from Republican senators: Arkansas’ Tom Cotton called it a “disgusting breach of custom” and dismissed it as the start of Booker’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Joining Booker on the panel will be two other black lawmakers: Representative John Lewis of Georgia and Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana. Lewis is a civil-rights icon who spoke at the 1963 March on Washington; Richmond is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Testifying in favor of Sessions’s nomination will be former federal prosecutor Willie Huntley, former U.S. marshal Jesse Saroyer, and ex-Sessions aide William Smith.

Tillerson: Russia 'Wants to Re-Establish Its Role in the Global World Order'

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

In his opening statement, Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, said that while “Russia … poses a danger … it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests.” In the United States’ past interactions with Russia, he added, “We did not recognize that Russia does not think like we do.”

Under questioning from Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Tillerson expanded on those remarks:

In my experience of both dealing with Russia and representatives of Russian government and Russian entities, and then … the length of time I have spent in Russia as an observer, my experience with the Russians [is] that they are very calculating, they are very strategic in their thinking, and they develop a plan. ...

I have found the Russians to be very strategic in their thinking. Very tactical. And they generally have a very clear plan they have laid before them. … And in my view, the leadership of Russia has a plan: It is a geographic plan that's in front of them. And they are taking action to implement that plan. They are judging response and then they are making the next step based on the response. In that regard, they are not unpredictable. If Russia does not receive an adequate response to an action, they will execute the next step of the plan. ...

Russia, more than anything, wants to re-establish its role in the global world order. … They believe they deserve a rightful role in the global world order because they are a nuclear power. And they are searching as to how to establish that. … I think that's now what we are witnessing, is an assertion on their part in order to force a conversation about what is Russia's role in the global world order. … That is a fairly predictable course of action they are taking.

Witnesses Offer Praise and Strong Criticism at Sessions Hearing

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions includes testimony from 15 people. Nine witnesses are testifying in the first panel; the other six will speak later this afternoon.

In their opening statements, five witnesses testified in favor of Sessions’ confirmation. Each one focused on his character and their previous experiences with him on matters he’d face as attorney general. Michael Mukasey, who served as President George W. Bush’s attorney general from 2007 to 2009, praised Sessions’s judgment, as well as his views on combating terrorism and reducing crime. Mukasey also criticized what he called “scurrilous attacks” made against Sessions’s record on race and civil rights. Jayann Sepich, who became a DNA-testing advocate after her daughter Katie’s brutal rape and murder in 2003, praised Sessions for his work on forensics-related legislation. “Senator Sessions has shown he understands the pain of victims and has put that understanding into action to help make changes that will make a difference,” she told the committee. Chuck Canterbury, the Fraternal Order of Police’s national president, offered “the wholehearted and full-throated support” of his organization based on Sessions’ efforts in Congress to support legislation to improve officer safety.

Among the witnesses supporting Sessions were two prominent black Republicans. Sessions has faced strong criticism for his record on civil rights, and the two witnesses tried to highlight his work for the African American community. Peter Kirsanow, a commissioner of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, praised Sessions’ hardline immigration stance as an asset to the black working class, which faces lower employment levels than workers of other races. “But for Senator Sessions’s indefatigable efforts, the plight of black workers now and in the future would be worse,” he said. Larry Thompson, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, acted as another character witness for Sessions; he said they have known each other for 30 years, since they were both young lawyers in Alabama. “He will administer equal justice for all without regard to person,” Thompson testified.

Four of the witnesses spoke against Sessions’s confirmation. Their testimony centered on some of the more controversial aspects of his political career. Amita Swadhin, a survivor of sexual assault, told the committee about her harrowing experiences growing up with an abusive relative and her difficult recovery, before urging the committee to reject Sessions’s nomination based on his record on sexual violence. NAACP President Cornell Brooks offered strong criticism of Sessions’ civil-rights record, targeting the Alabama senator’s response to the anti-Confederate flag movement after the Charleston church shooting in 2015. According to Brooks, Sessions described those efforts as orchestrated by “the left” to “delegitimize the fabulous accomplishments of our country.” Brooks said those remarks reflect “an astonishing and appalling ignorance and/or callousness” toward African Americans, and urged legislators to reject his nomination.

Oscar Vasquez, a U.S. Army veteran who was brought illegally into this country as a child, offered one of the strongest narratives for legislators. He described to them his life story, including his decision in 2009 to return to Mexico and re-enter the United States legally, through a waiver, so he could get lawful-resident status and enlist in the military. He praised President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which blocked undocumented children from being deported, and explained his fear that others like him won’t be able to secure a path to legal status when the new administration takes power. “We need an attorney general who will protect the American people from those who would do us harm, but who also will show mercy to those who deserve it,” Vasquez said.

One witness did not take a side. David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, said that his organization does not typically “oppose or endorse” the nominations of judges or Cabinet officials. But Cole said the ACLU was sufficiently concerned about Sessions’s record to raise “serious questions” about his nomination to be attorney general. Among the issues he discussed were Sessions’s past stances on racial equality, on religious freedom for American Muslims, on equal rights for women and LGBT Americans, and on criminal-justice and civil-liberties issues. Cole fell short of urging the Senate to reject his nomination, citing the ACLU’s longstanding nonpartisan stance. But, he added, “these statements and actions compel the Senate to undertake the most thorough and deliberate investigation of Senator Sessions’s record before voting on his confirmation.”

Rubio Calls Tillerson's Response on Putin 'Discouraging'

Cliff Owen / AP

Senator Marco Rubio, the just-reelected Florida Republican and ex-rival of Donald Trump, may be the single most important vote Rex Tillerson needs to win on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be confirmed as secretary of state. And based on Rubio’s aggressive interrogation of the nominee Wednesday morning, Tillerson doesn’t have it yet.

Rubio wasted no time in pressing Tillerson on whether he believed that under the direction of Vladimir Putin, Russia had purposely interfered in the presidential election. Tillerson noted that because he does not yet have an FBI security clearance, he hasn’t had classified briefings from the intelligence community. But he referenced the public report the intelligence community released on Russia’s action and said it “clearly is troubling.”

Yet to Rubio’s frustration, Tillerson would not single out Russia for its cyberattacks and noted, as Trump has, that “cyberattacks are occurring from many nations.” He also would not commit to recommending that Trump keep in place executive orders President Obama signed that impose additional sanctions and other penalties on Russia in response to its alleged hacking of Democratic email accounts. Rubio said it was “troubling” that Tillerson would not back proposed legislation that would require the president to impose sanctions in certain circumstances. The Florida senator said he worried that without the bill, a president such as Trump could go easy on Russia even if it was clear they had attacked the United States.

The sharpest exchange between Rubio and Tillerson came during a discussion of Putin. “Is Vladimir Putin a war criminal?” Rubio asked him, point-blank. “I would not use that term,” Tillerson replied.

Rubio then proceeded to cite a litany of atrocities Putin is alleged to have ordered in Aleppo, Syria, making the case to Tillerson that those public reports alone should convince him that the Russian leader had violated international law. Still, Tillerson would not concede his point and said he’d want to have access to classified intelligence on Putin before agreeing with Rubio’s assessment.

“Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would want much more information before making that conclusion,” Tillerson said.

“Mr. Tillerson,” Rubio replied, “the attack on Aleppo is in the public domain. … There is so much information out there, it should not be hard to say Vladimir Putin has committed war crimes in Aleppo.”

Tillerson also would not say that Putin was behind the many suspicious deaths of dissidents, journalists, and opposition figures in Russia in recent years.

“I find it discouraging your inability to cite that,” Rubio continued.

Why is Rubio so important? Because of the narrow divide between Republicans and Democrats on the committee, if Democrats oppose Tillerson en masse, Rubio’s opposition to Tillerson could conceivably sink his nomination before it ever gets to the Senate floor.

Tillerson Calls Sanctions a 'Powerful Tool' That Sometimes 'Harm American Business'

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Under questioning from senators on the Foreign Relations Committee, Rex Tillerson called sanctions “a powerful tool.” But he added that they do “impact businesses and interests.”

“When sanctions are imposed, they, by their design, are going to harm American business,” the former Exxon CEO said. “Let’s design them well. Let’s target them well,” and enforce them fully.

The remarks are an echo of previous comments Tillerson made while working at Exxon. In 2014, he told shareholders: “We don’t find [sanctions] to be effective unless they are very well-implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do. So we always encourage the people who are making those decisions to consider the very broad collateral damage of who are they really harming with sanctions and what are their objectives and whether sanctions are really effective or not.”

At issue are the U.S. sanctions on Russia, imposed after its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2012. The sanctions stalled Exxon’s Sakhlin-1 project in the Russian Arctic, which Tillerson has said he “take[s] a lot of personal pride” in. Critics say they fear President Trump could move to lift those sanctions—and that Tillerson, as his secretary of state, would support that move.

Day 2 of the Sessions Hearing Begins

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The second day of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing for attorney general is now under way. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the Judiciary Committee chairman, opened the hearing by quoting California Senator Dianne Feinstein’s remarks yesterday about the importance of judging nominees not based on their senatorial records, but on how they would fulfill the responsibilities of leading the Justice Department.

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who’s serving as the ranking Democratic committee member Wednesday on Feinstein’s behalf, struck a different tone. In his opening remarks, he criticized Republican leaders for pushing through Cabinet nominees without ensuring the proper ethics paperwork is completed. (As my colleague Nora Kelly noted yesterday, multiple confirmation hearings have now been delayed for this reason.)

Whitehouse also expressed his concerns about reports that the Trump transition team is asking departments for names of specific civil servants. He quoted a Heritage Foundation spokesperson who compared the situation to cleaning the Augean stables, a reference to one of Hercules’ 12 labors in which the mythological hero diverted a river to wash out years of accumulated animal waste. “I don't think it's fair to characterize the career employees of the U.S. Department of Justice as filth,” Whitehouse told the committee.

Finally, Whitehouse also noted that many of the Trump nominees “run far to the right” and shared concerns that some of the nominees—he did not say which ones—came “out of the swamp the president-elect promised to drain.” Compared with yesterday’s relatively collegial tone between the senators and Sessions, Whitehouse’s opening remarks could indicate a feistier performance by Democratic senators today.

Tillerson: Russia 'Poses a Danger'

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

At the opening of his confirmation hearing to be secretary of state, Rex Tillerson staked out a position more critical of Russia than President-elect Donald Trump has in recent months, saying it “poses a danger” and has “disregarded America’s interest” in Ukraine, Syria, and elsewhere. But he made no direct mention of Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. election or of his relationship with Vladimir Putin.

“Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests,” Tillerson said in his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.”

Tillerson’s statements on Russia and his relationship with Vladimir Putin will be key to his hopes of securing enough Republican votes for confirmation. Senators John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, have already raised concerns about Tillerson’s nomination. As the CEO of ExxonMobil, he negotiated business deals in Moscow, has been critical of U.S. sanctions, and received the “Order of Friendship” from Putin in 2013. Since the election, Trump has at times praised Putin’s leadership and downplayed the conclusion of the intelligence community that the Russian leader ordered interference that sought to elevate Trump in the presidential election.

While Tillerson ignored the uproar over alleged Russian hacking, he characterized Russia as an adversary in ways Trump has been reluctant to do. “Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options,”  Tillerson said. “Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”

Still, Tillerson backed a key component of Trump’s position on Russia—that the U.S. should open a dialogue with Putin’s government as a way of reducing tensions between the two nations. And he blamed the current administration’s weakness and an “absence of American leadership” for opening the door to Russian aggression.

Before his testimony, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia each vouched for Tillerson on the question of Russia. Protesters briefly interrupted his opening statement, with one shouting as security escorted her out of the room: “Rex Tillerson, I reject you!”

Before Tillerson even spoke on Wednesday morning, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, criticized him for ignoring Russia’s election interference in his prepared remarks submitted to the committee.

Aside from Russia, Tillerson’s statement touched on the importance of the United States asserting its leadership abroad to contain China’s ambition, defeat the Islamic State, and to ensure its allies keep their commitments in organizations like NATO—a frequent complaint of Trump’s. Tillerson indirectly criticized the Obama administration’s opening with Cuba and the outgoing president’s failure to back up his “red line” threat in Syria. He made no mention of climate change and only a passing reference to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Middle East, two preoccupations of the man he hopes to succeed, Secretary of State John Kerry.

Senate Lawmakers Zero In on Tillerson's Business Experience

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The top lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee set their respective parties’ agendas Wednesday at the hearing for Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. Chairman Bob Corker and his fellow Republicans seem poised to play up Tillerson’s business background, while Ranking Member Ben Cardin and his compatriots look ready to tear it down.  

Cardin, the Maryland senator, acknowledged Tillerson’s extensive private-sector experience in his opening statement—the nominee is the former CEO of ExxonMobil—but questioned whether that experience would appropriately translate to the State Department. “Having a view from the C-Suite at Exxon is not at all the same as the view from the seventh floor of the Department of State,” Cardin said. “And those who suggest that anyone who can run a successful business can, of course, run a government agency do a profound disservice to both.”

Cardin devoted significant time to what Democrats see as Tillerson’s largest red flag: his ties to Russia. As my colleague Siddhartha Mahanta has written, Tillerson once led Exxon’s operations in that country and once received the Russian Order of Friendship Prize from Vladimir Putin. Democrats have reservations about his relationship with the Russian president, particularly when the president-elect, in Cardin’s words, “may take quick steps to make Putin a close ally.”

Corker, who himself was on Trump’s short list to be secretary of state, presented a far sunnier view of Tillerson’s background. “The fact that you've led a global enterprise with 70,000 employees around the world, have been there for 41-and-a-half years, have met world leaders, know them up close and personally—to me that is going to give our new president much greater confidence in your ability to offer advice,” Corker said.

And that advice, Corker suggested, will be extremely consequential. Trump’s foreign-policy views are “evolving,” Corker said, and Tillerson will be “one of the last people to talk to him” and “up under the hood” as he makes decisions.

A Rundown of the Week’s Confirmation Hearings

The schedule for confirmation hearings has been in flux. Here’s an updated timetable for some of Donald Trump’s nominees:

Rex Tillerson: The former Exxon CEO appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9:15 a.m. ET on Wednesday, January 11, and at 10 a.m. ET on Thursday, January 12.

Elaine Chao: Her hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, January 11, at 10:15 a.m. ET before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Jeff Sessions: The Alabama senator appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday, January 11, for a second day of hearings.

Mike Pompeo: The Republican congressman from Kansas is Trump’s nominee to head the CIA. He will appear Thursday, January 12, before members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was initially scheduled to appear before the panel on Wednesday; the reason for the move is not clear.

Ben Carson: The retired neurosurgeon is Trump's nominee to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. His hearing before the Senate Housing Committee is on Thursday, January 12, at 10 a.m. ET.

James Mattis: The retired Marine Corps general is scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, January 12, at 9:30 a.m. ET. He is Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

Ryan Zinke: The Republican congressman from Montana is Trump's nominee for interior secretary. He is scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Tuesday, January 17, at 10 a.m. ET.

Wilbur Ross: The billionaire investor is the nominee for commerce secretary. He was initially scheduled to appear before the same panel as Chao on Thursday, January 12, but that was postponed to Wednesday, January 18, because Ross hasn't returned his ethics agreement.

Betsy DeVos: The conservative education activist, who is the nominee to head the Department of Education, will appear before the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, January 17. Her hearing was scheduled for Wednesday, January 11, but was delayed amid criticism from Democrats that Republicans were rushing to confirm Trump's nominees without sufficiently vetting them. More on that here.

Our full list of Trump's Cabinet appointments is here.