Update, 10: 10 a.m.: The speculation is over because despite Tillerson's ties to Russia, his lack of diplomatic experience and the alarm expressed by members of the GOP itself, Trump's pick for secretary of state is, indeed, the soon-to-be-former head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson.
Most people get a part-time job when they retire. Fingers crossed Tillerson already knows this is not one of those kinds of gigs. Now we get to see if the Senate actually confirms him.
If President-elect Donald Trump actually chooses ExxonMobil CEO and Board Chairman Rex Tillerson to be the next secretary of state, Tillerson will be the first Texan actually appointed to Trump's cabinet.
Tillerson met with Trump at Trump Tower on Saturday to discuss the position, according to NBC.
Tillerson — a longtime conservative dubbed "T-Rex" by Sarah Palin, who did not support Trump in the election — is, shall we say, an interesting pick. For starters, Tillerson has headed up Exxon, a company that acts as if it's a country, for a decade, but he doesn't have any actual diplomatic experience. He does, though, have ties to Russia that Senate Republicans have already said they are not entirely thrilled about. His stances on energy and the environment have environmentalists raising their eyebrows about what Tillerson would actually do should he be appointed.
In other words, while some Texans may savor the (arguably dubious) honor of seeing one of their native sons in Trump's cabinet, there are some real concerns about Tillerson's potentially taking over from current Secretary of State John Kerry.
First, there's the Russia ties. Tillerson was born in Wichita Falls and graduated from the University of Texas, but after that his life took on an international flair as he rose through the ranks at Exxon. Along the way, while heading up Exxon interests in Eastern Europe, Tillerson got to be buddies with Vladimir Putin, who has been the head of Russia as either president or prime minister since 1999. Tillerson is so tight with Russia that the country even awarded him an Order of Friendship medal in 2013, right before U.S.-Russian relations went icy cold over Russia's moves in Crimea and Ukraine.
As Congress prepares to further investigate the extent to which Russia was mucking around in our presidential election — despite Trump's dismissals, the CIA says it definitely happened — it's pretty alarming that Tillerson may be monitoring America's diplomatic relationship with Russia. “In nominating Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, Trump may have found the only person in the country with more conflicts of interest than Trump,” Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, explained in a phone conference on Monday.
As secretary of state, Tillerson would be able to influence the energy and environmental policies of the Trump administration. After all, Kerry was the one who brokered the Paris climate deal in the first place. Tillerson could have tremendous impact on how the nation approaches everything from its use of fossil fuels to whether or not climate science gets support and is given credence by the new administration.
On the face of it, this could be spun as a positive. Under Tillerson, Exxon has supported climate change science, has backed a carbon tax that most Republicans are against and has been in favor of the Paris climate agreement (the one Trump has vowed he will ditch once he's in office). But environmentalists say that Tillerson's getting the gig would be tantamount to letting the energy industry run the nation.
“There's a real concern President-elect Trump is creating a government by and for the energy sector,” says Kathy Mulvey, a spokeswoman for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Secretary of State must be a champion for action on climate change, and Rex Tillerson has spent more than 40 years at ExxonMobil.”
Tillerson would likely be ditching his day job if he is, in fact, selected as the nominee. He already told the ExxonMobil board of directors about the possible career change. It would be pretty decent timing for Tillerson anyway — he's 64 and is widely expected to retire when he turns 65 next March.
But while you can take an oil executive out of the industry, can you ever take the industry instincts out of the oil executive? That will be one of the big questions if Tillerson does get the nod.
However, Tillerson's actual confirmation process may not be a walk in the park. Some Senate Republicans are publicly balking at Tillerson as the nominee. Arizona Republican Senator John McCain has already made it clear he has concerns about Tillerson's Russian connections, telling Fox News, “Vladimir Putin is a thug, bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, also underscored via Twitter that he's not down with Tillerson as a choice:
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Being a "friend of Vladimir" is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState - MR— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) December 11, 2016
If Rubio joins all the Foreign Relations Committee Democrats in opposition to this move, Tillerson's nomination will effectively be blocked, according to Bloomberg. That wouldn't quite be the end of it. It would be an unprecedented move, but the nomination could go to the Senate floor even though it had been rejected in committee. (Of course, based on how things are going, we should all probably expect that this is exactly what will happen.)
Either way, there are a lot of people incensed by Tillerson's emerging as the preferred choice for the job.
“Even the people voting for Trump weren't voting to turn over the keys of the car to the biggest oil company on the planet,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, says. “We'll make sure every senator understands that if they vote for him, they own his baggage, they own his record, they own his foreign ties, they own it all.”