WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation, which includes U.S.-Russia policy, voted against the confirmation of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. Murphy has opposed Tillerson’s nomination and questioned Tillerson on how the U.S. should respond to Russia’s damaging attacks on the United States, his past business dealings, and views on how to advance American diplomacy abroad. Yesterday, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Murphy called on Senate Republicans to join him in opposing Tillerson’s nomination.
“…[W]e have reason to fear that Mr. Tillerson would run the State Department like he ran Exxon, where he repeatedly worked against U.S. national interests. Mr. Tillerson opposed sanctions levied against Russia in the wake of their invasion against Ukraine…[and] was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin,” Murphy said on the Senate floor. “We have a President who has openly mocked human rights, who has supported vicious dictators, and a Secretary of State who has made a career of doing business with some of the worst human rights violators in the world...I will oppose his nomination, and I hope others will join me.”
Video of Murphy’s speech is available here. Full text of Murphy’s speech is below:
“Since assuming office on January 20, which is just 11 days ago – I don't know, it kind of feels to me like it was 11 months ago, this is going in a sort of horrible, nightmarish slow motion – the Trump Administration has assumed responsibility for our nation's national security. A lot of jobs the President has, this new Administration has, but that's at the top of the list, guaranteeing this country's security and frankly being the guarantor of global security. And leaving aside some of the broader systemic challenges that we face in the world, let's just look at what's happened since the inauguration.
“Yesterday, Iran reportedly conducted another ballistic missile test. Now, President Trump criticized President Obama on Iran, being too soft. Now it's his turn to get China and Russia to agree to a Security Council Resolution condemning this test and taking punitive action.
“On Sunday, extremist groups all around the world celebrated the Trump Administration's ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Comments that were posted to pro-Islamic State social media accounts predicted that the executive order would serve as a recruiting tool for ISIS. One posting said that Trump's actions clearly revealed the truth and harsh reality behind the American government's hatred towards Muslims. Another posting hailed Trump as the best caller to Islam. And another one talked about the ban being a ‘blessed ban’, which is a reference to what militant leaders called the invasion of Iraq, which was hailed then as the ‘blessed invasion’, becoming the ‘cause celebre,’ as the intelligence community called it, for the global jihadist movement.
“Immediately following the first phone conversation between Trump and Putin, the conflict in Ukraine flared up. Likely not coincidentally, eight Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 26 were wounded just since Saturday. And in the Balkans, where Russia has been just recently again steadily increasing its influence and presence, as Europe is pulling up the doors on its new prospective members, Serbia sent a train emblazoned with the motto ‘Kosovo is Serbia’ up to the border of Kosovo. It turned around, but as a result, troops and security forces were reportedly scrambled to the border from both sides.
“Now, I’m not suggesting that all of these bad things happened because Donald Trump was inaugurated. I think – I listened to my colleagues explain all of the world's troubles for eight years through the lens of responsibility to the Obama Administration. But this is all an advertisement for a very simple idea: that this is probably the absolute worst time to have the first American President with no government experience and no diplomatic experience pick the first Secretary of State with no government experience and no diplomatic experience.
“This is not the moment for on-the-job learning. And yet, that's what we have so far. Granted, Mr. Tillerson is not in place, but President Trump's foreign policy up to this point has been tragically amateurish. Witness the invitation for the Mexican leader to come to the White House. Worked out in painstaking detail and opportunity to show despite the furor and rhetoric of the campaign, solidarity between the American and Mexican people, and then Donald Trump sends out a tweet daring the Mexican leader to cancel the meeting, which he promptly does, erupting threats of a trade war.
“Witness Friday’s Muslim ban, which now has Muslim nations all around the world rethinking their relationship with the United States, sending this dangerous message to people all around the world that you have no home in the United States if you practice one particular faith.
“And so it begs the question as to whether Mr. Tillerson is going to be able to right this ship, having no experience working on almost every single one of these issues that confronts us around the world. It is not the same thing to run a global business and run the State Department. And, frankly, I would argue that Mr. Tillerson's experience, even if you believe that he did a good job for Exxon, it doesn't advertise him as a good candidate to run the Secretary of State.
“In fact, we have reason to fear that Mr. Tillerson would run the State Department like he ran Exxon, where he repeatedly worked against U.S. national interests. Mr. Tillerson opposed sanctions levied against Russia in the wake of their invasion against Ukraine. He tried to pull one over on the Committee, telling the Committee this ridiculous story of first not lobbying Congress on sanctions, then not knowing if Exxon was lobbying for or against sanctions. That just doesn't pass the smell test.
“He called the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee to express his misgivings about sanctions. He personally lobbied Congress against the sanctions. His company spent millions of dollars lobbying against the sanctions. And when asked by President Obama and his administration to work – to refrain from attending a major economic development conference hosted by Vladimir Putin in the middle of the Ukraine crisis, Tillerson thumbed his nose at America. He intentionally embarrassed his own country and our allies by sending his top deputy to that conference – and it gets worse – and standing next to Russian officials to announce major new contracts with Russia.
“Think about that. We begged Exxon to stay away from that conference. Not only did they go, but Tillerson had his number-two guy announce new contracts in the middle of the sanctions, in the middle of the worst of the crisis with Ukraine. And so it's not surprising that he was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin three years ago.
“And just an aside, I’ve listened to my colleagues castigate President Obama for being weak on Russia for years. And frankly, the only thing that has been consistent about candidate Trump and President Trump's foreign policy has been a marshmallow-like softness on Russia. At every turn, Trump has previewed for you that he is going to be easy on Vladimir Putin. And Tillerson's testimony cemented that. He was asked over and over whether he would commit to holding the line on existing sanctions, whether he would commit to imposing new sanctions based on Russian interference in the U.S. elections. He was asked by the presiding officer if he would at the very least commit to holding in place the sanctions on the individuals who were named as those interfering in the U.S. election. He wouldn't commit to any of it.
“And so it is hard for me to understand how all of the Republicans who have been eviscerating President Obama for eight years for being soft on Russia are now supporting the nomination of Rex Tillerson, who has basically advertised that they are going to withdraw the line that the Obama administration has taken. And I hope that's not true, but we've asked over and over again for this nominee to give us some signal that they are going to at least maintain the policies that we have today and we've gotten no satisfactory answer.
“And, lastly, Mr. President, maybe most concerning about this nominee is the potential for him to carry with – for him to carry with him from Exxon a total lack of concern for ethics. Now, I understand business ethics, that sounds really harsh, right? I understand there is a difference between business ethics and government ethics, and human rights is not something you're going to care about in a business to the extent that we care about it, as those who run and advocate for American foreign policy. But I asked Mr. Tillerson if there was any country in the world that he wasn't willing to do business with, as the leader of Exxon. And he danced around the answer a little bit, but the pretty simple response was, no. And that's – that’s plain as day.
“We can look at the countries that they did business with, including Syria, through subsidiaries, including Iran. There was no human rights record that was bad enough for Exxon to say, hey, no, you know, this isn't something we want to touch. And we had been told by those who were supporting his nomination that we really shouldn't pay attention to everything he did at Exxon because he's going to be a new man when he comes to State. And I guess you can understand that. Plenty of people take on new priorities when they come into new jobs, plenty of people argue for something they argued against once they have a new boss. But he had a chance before the Foreign Relations Committee to tell us how serious he was about human rights. He got asked over and over again what he thought about human rights violations and some of the worst offenders around the world. And his answers to those questions were, you know, boy, they were disturbing and troubling.
“He wouldn't name Saudi Arabia as a human rights violator? Saudi Arabia is locking up political dissidents left and right. They don't allow women to drive. Now I understand they are an ally but they are also a human rights violator. Everybody knows that. Wouldn't commit that President Duterte in the Philippines, who has been openly bragging about murdering thousands of civilians with no due process – wouldn’t name him as a human rights violator? Wouldn't say that what Russia has done in Aleppo is a war crime? Now I understand that maybe you don't know all the facts when you’re just coming through the process, but all you have do is pick up a newspaper to understand what's going on in Manila or what’s happening in Aleppo.
“It doesn't take a lot of research to know that Saudi Arabia is violating people’s human rights, and he knows that country very well. It suggests that this lack of concern for ethics and human rights is going to carry over to the State Department. And of course he’s working for a President who is never going to tell him to care about human rights, a President who has openly talked about his affection for torture. How he thinks that strong leaders are the ones that kill journalists who oppose them.
“So it looks as if we’re seeing a preview of an abdication of America's historic role in promoting and pushing human rights around the world. We have a President who has openly mocked human rights, who has supported vicious dictators, and a Secretary of State who has made a career of doing business with some of the worst human rights violators in the world, and who couldn't name human rights violators when he appeared before the Committee.
“Senator Markey is right. Mr. Tillerson is an accomplished businessman. He is smart. He is savvy. And I don't say any of this to impugn his character. He had a job to do at Exxon. He did it well on behalf of those shareholders. And, you know, frankly, he didn't have to take this job. He didn't have to subject himself to the spotlight and to the constant second-guessing that awaits him as the next American Secretary of State. So I give him credit for making this decision to step up to the plate and do this job. And I think his motives are pure. I guess I can't assume anything else. I know there are people that question those motives, but I’m going to assume that he's doing this because he wants to help his country.
“And I look forward to working with him. He needs to be an advocate for the State Department. He needs to be an advocate for the nonmilitary tools that have not historically been available to the President. We've had a military-first mentality as a country. We think every problem in the world can be solved through military intervention. Even under President Obama there was a bend towards military solutions. And as Secretary of State, he can be the chief spokesman here for the ways in which you solve problems that don't involve attacking and invading.
“But I don't think somebody that has done one thing with one set of priorities and values for 40 years just suddenly does an about-face and adopts a totally different set of priorities and values for his career’s capstone job. If that were the case, he could have previewed that for us in the committee hearing. And yet over and over again when we asked for evidence that his priorities and his values were changed, his answers didn't measure up.
“And as I said, in addition to those concerns, this is just not the time for a Secretary of State with no diplomatic experience whatsoever. It is not a time for our new Secretary of State to learn on the job. So, Mr. President, I will oppose his nomination, and I hope others will join me.
“I yield the floor.”