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Senate Questions Trump's Secretary of State Nominee. Aired 3- 3:30p ET
Aired January 11, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: You're going to be hitting the ground at a very difficult time as far as U.S. relationships around the world.
They have spiraled out of control from time to time. And we are not in a good place in many parts of the world, primarily because of U.S. policy. And it's going to be rethought. It's going to be redeveloped. And I thank you for willing to take -- for willingness to take that on.
I was struck when you were named that this is something that's been a bit off of the radar screen of most Americans, and that is the importance of the work that the State Department does in dealing with our companies and with commerce in foreign countries.
Most Americans don't realize how difficult it is to do business overseas. And the -- and the State Department really needs to focus on that more than what they have and be helpful to countries that do want to do business overseas, because it is -- a lot of times, it has to go through government sources to get into business over there.
So, I was impressed with that, and I'm glad -- having your business background that you do, I think you're going to be very helpful in that regard in helping the State Department further understand its responsibilities in that regard.
And the State Department does a good job. Every one of us have traveled overseas, sometimes in bipartisan fashion, isn't that right, Senator Sheehan? And we are always treated, regardless of the political party, so well by our people, the State Department people that are working there.
We've talked a lot. Russia has got a lot of play in this meeting, but we haven't talked much about Iran and North Korea. Those are a couple of real challenges for us. And those policies as far as those two countries are concerned really need to be rethought and recalibrated and then re-announced in a way that they understand what America is going to do, where we're coming from and what we're going to do.
I think, in talking with people, our allies, they are confused as to where we want to go with this and what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. And the same is true with ISIS, how we're going to handle that situation, where they're operating both in Iraq and Syria. So, I'm not going to press you on those, because you are just getting your feet on the ground, and I hope the president-elect will be, after you're able to get your arms around these things, he will listen to you carefully as to the policies we're going to develop for that.
The policies need to be entirely different than what they are. In that part of the world, the sipping tea and singing kumbaya is not a way that you're going to be successful in a lot of those countries. They understand strength, not necessarily the use of strength, but they understand people who possess strength and people who they are convinced will use that strength if necessary.
They need to be convinced of that. And I know there's a lot of people complaining about the relationship between Mr. Putin and the president-elect and, for that matter, yourself and Mr. Putin. I hope Mr. Putin gets to know both you guys really, really well, because I think he will be convinced that you do project American strength and that America still has the muscle that it's had and that we still stand for what we stand for and we're going to project that around the world.
So in that regard, I really hope that Mr. Putin does have a relationship to where he gets to know both of you guys and especially the president-elect, because I think that will impress him that he's not going to be able to get away with the kind of stuff that he's gotten away with in the Crimea, or in Syria or in other places where they've been meddling in places where they shouldn't be.
So, finally, let me say again thank you for your willingness to do this. I have been impressed as we've been sitting here. The meeting we had in my office was very good. We were able to develop a lot of these thoughts a lot more deeply than we can here.
And I want to say that I have been really impressed. Having come from a private sector background myself, it's difficult for people to understand that the transition from the private sector and business into the world of diplomacy is very different.
It's a transition that needs to be made. And just sitting here listening to you over the hours that you have been here, I have been very impressed that you have been able to make that transition. You're speaking in terms that diplomats understand.
I appreciate that. And I think it will serve you well as you go forward. So, again, thank you for your willingness to do this.
And with that, I yield back time, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: Thank you.
This was the last person of the first round, so we're going to get back into the synch we were in before.
Senator Johnson. SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Tillerson, I want to go back to the four responsibilities that Secretary Gates laid out for the secretary of state, advise the president, negotiate agreements, represent us abroad and lead the State Department.
Represent U.S. abroad. I met you the morning I returned from my trip to Israel, which was a couple of days before the way I would term it our -- the U.S.' shameful abstention in that vote on settlements.
I have never understood why any administration -- we've done this on a bipartisan fashion -- would force a friend, an ally, to sit down and negotiate with I guess negotiating partners that refuse to acknowledge their right to exist. That's kind of table stakes
Right? In business, it's sitting down and forcing negotiation to buy a company that doesn't want to sell it. Given a similar type of fact, I appreciate the fact that -- and I agree with you that I think that actually complicates the future negotiation on that.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: Well, I do have a view on that, Senator. Thank you.
It would be akin -- in many respects, if you are negotiating with someone that denies your right to exist, you would have to question, well, why would they ever live up to any agreement if they don't expect you to be around?
So, it's already a complex negotiation. And then to force one party to the table through coercion or however you want to describe the most recent resolution is not useful. There have been many opportunities since the Oslo accord for parties to sit down and try to work things out. The leadership certainly has not seized those opportunities.
I would say in the case of the Palestinian leadership, while they have renounced violence, it's one thing to renounce it and it's another to take concrete action to prevent it. And I think until there's a serious demonstration on their part that they are willing to do more than just renounce the violence, they're willing to do something to at least interrupt it or interfere with it, it's going to be very difficult to create conditions at the table for parties to have any production discussion around settlement.
JOHNSON: Do you agree that Israel has conceded just about every point and at this point in time the Palestinians just refuse to say yes?
TILLERSON: Well, I think there have been many, many opportunities again for progress to be made. And those have never been seized upon.
So I do think it's a matter to be discussed and decided between the two parties. To the extent America's foreign policy engagement can create a more fruitful environment for those discussions, then I think that is the role we can play. But at the end of it, this has to be settled between these two parties.
JOHNSON: Our policy should be to help strengthen our friends.
In terms of advising the negotiating agreements, advising the president, I think Congress has willingly given away its advise and consent power.
Most famously recently is the Iranian agreement. You look at the federal -- or the foreign affairs manual, I think clearly that Iranian agreement was a treaty. And I think had we honestly upheld our oath of office, that vote on my amendment (INAUDIBLE) should have been 100- 1.
Every senator should have voted to support and defend the Constitution, which first starts with jealously guarding our power advise and consent.
Would you advise -- first of all, do you believe that was a treaty?
TILLERSON: It would have all the appearances of a treaty. It looks like a treaty.
JOHNSON: What about the Paris climate accord, which commits us to a fair amount of expenditure? Do you believe that's a treaty or just an agreement that the executive can enter in on its own?
TILLERSON: It looks like a treaty.
JOHNSON: Will you work with us then? Will you advise the president as you go negotiate for this nation to respect the Constitution and come to Congress, come to the Senate for advice and consent on treaties?
TILLERSON: Senator, I respect the proper roles of both branches of government.
In my conversations with the president-elect, he does as well. And I think he's expressed some of these same views that, under the past administration, the executive branch has gone pretty far out there in terms of recognizing the proper role of Congress as a body to express its own view on some of these agreements.
JOHNSON: Leading the State Department, you obviously were the CEO of a functioning, a successful organization, 75,000 employees, I think the number was.
But there are employees that have the mission statement, they understand their roles to achieve the goals. They're actually supportive of the goals of the organization.
You're going to be assuming the leadership of a department that, let's face it, in many cases, you have entrenched bureaucrats that not only don't necessarily agree with your foreign policy or the next administration's foreign policy, might be hostile to it.
Do you understand that challenge? And as an experienced manager, how are you going to react to that? How are you going to deal with that?
TILLERSON: You're right, Senator. The State Department at a little over 70,000 employees, interestingly about the same size of the organization that I led when I was at ExxonMobil, about more than 40,000 of the State Department employees are deployed overseas.
Interestingly, about 60 percent of ExxonMobil employees are not Americans. So in terms of understanding and dealing with people who are representing you around the world or halfway around the world in various embassies and missions, how do you get all these people aligned with one objective?
And objective is America's interest and America's national security. So I think part of leadership is expressing very clear views and then part of leadership is having an organization that has a clear line of sight on issues as to who owns these and who is going to be held accountable for them and having an organization that is all working in concert toward that objective.
My experience has been that people look for leadership. And when they're acting in ways that are contrary to the overall mission, it's generally because there's been an absence of strong leadership to clearly define to them what that expectation is and what their role in it is, and then reward people who are behaving in a way that supports the overall mission and not support their own agenda.
I have used the term many times in large organizations of working in the general interest. Well, the general interest of the State Department is the American people's interest. And if anyone is working in a way that is only to advance their own interest, they're not working in the general interest.
And I think it's important that people understand that is the responsibility of all of us who will serve the country in the State Department is the general interest, which is American people's interest.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Tillerson. Good luck on your next assignment.
CORKER: Thank you.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And I'm glad you came back after lunch, Mr. Tillerson.
I appreciated very much your response to that question, because I have to say my experience with State Department employees is that the overwhelming majority of them are dedicated. They're dedicated to this country. They do their work often at great personal sacrifice. And I think we should appreciate the work that they do. And it sounds like you share that appreciation for the sacrifices that they make.
TILLERSON: I most certainly do, Senator. I have a great affection for those who are willing to take these overseas assignments. Many of them are in very difficult positions, and particularly when their families go with them. They truly are sacrificing on behalf of this country. And I think that they deserve the recognition for that and the appreciation for it.
SHAHEEN: Well, thank you.
There's been discussion today about the concerns that this committee has expressed about -- which I think are legitimate -- about potential conflicts of interests that you might face if confirmed as secretary of state because of your long career at Exxon.
And while I understand there are some concerns about the precise approach that you have taken to divest your financial interests in Exxon, I do appreciate that you have taken these concrete actions and that you plan to take more if you are confirmed.
And I wonder if you could talk about why you think that's important.
TILLERSON: Well, Senator, and, again, as I commented in response to a question earlier, I had a great 41-and-a-half year career. I was truly blessed, enjoyed every minute of it.
That part of my life is over. I have been humbled and honored with the opportunity to now serve my country, never thought I would have an opportunity to serve in this way. So when I made the decision to say yes to president-elect Trump when he asked me to do this, the first step I took was to retain my own outside counsel and begin the process.
And the only guidance I gave them is, I must have a complete and clear, clean break from all of my connections to ExxonMobil, not even the appearance.
And whatever is required for us to achieve that, get that in place. I am appreciative that the ExxonMobil Corporation, who were represented by their own counsel, and the ExxonMobil board, were willing to work with me to achieve that as well. It was their objective too.
And in the end, if that required me walk away from some things, that's fine, whatever was necessary to achieve that. And I again told people I don't even want the appearance that there's any connection to myself and the future fortunes, up or down, of the ExxonMobil Corporation.
SHAHEEN: Well, again, thank you very much for that.
I am sad to say that I think it stands in stark contrast to what we heard from president-elect Trump today, who announced that he is not going to divest himself from his vast business interests around the world. So I do appreciate your recognition that this is important for maintaining the integrity of the position with the American public and the world. You talked eliminating ISIS as one of your top priorities if you are
confirmed. And your opening statement connects radical Islam to ISIS. And you also make the point of saying that you think it's important to support Muslims around the world who reject radical Islam.
During the last Congress, this committee heard about the importance of working with the Muslim community in the United States to combat ISIS and the domestic terrorists that have been produced as the result of ISIS ideology.
In your view, is it helpful to suggest that as Americans we should be afraid of Muslims?
TILLERSON: No, Senator.
In my travels and because of my past work, I have traveled extensively in Muslim countries, not just the Middle East, but throughout Southeast Asia. And I have gained an appreciation and recognition of this great faith. And that's why I made a distinction that we should support those Muslim voices that reject this same radical Islam that we reject.
This is part of winning the war other than on the battlefield. I mentioned we have to win it not just on the battlefield. We've got to win the war of ideas. And our greatest -- one of our greatest allies in this war is going to be the moderate voices of Muslim, people of the Muslim faith who speak from their perspective and their rejection of that representation of what is otherwise a great faith.
SHAHEEN: And so do you support restricting travel or immigration to the United States by Muslims?
TILLERSON: I think what's important is that we are able to make a judgment about the people that are coming into the country. And so, no, I do not support a blanket-type rejection of any particular group of people.
But, clearly, we have serious challenges to be able to vet people coming into the country, and particularly under the current circumstances, because of the instability in the parts of the world that it's occurring and the massive migration that's occurred out of the region and a lack of any documentation following people as they have moved through various other country.
It's a huge challenge. And I don't think we can just close our eyes and ignore that. We have to be very clear-eyed about recognizing that threat and developing a means to deal with it.
SHAHEEN: Well, I certainly agree with that, which is very different, I think, than a ban on an entire religion, people of that religion.
Do you support creating a national registry of for American Muslims?
TILLERSON: I would have to have lot more information on how such an approach would even be constructed. And if it were a tool for vetting, then it probably extends to other
people as well, other groups that are threats to the U.S. But that's -- it would just require me much more information around how that would even be approached.
SHAHEEN: And one of the things you and I discussed when we met was the special immigrant visa program that we have maintained for Afghans who have helped our men and women in the military on the ground.
And will you support continuing that program to ensure that those people who have been properly vetted who helped our men and women are able to come to this country when their lives are threatened in Afghanistan?
TILLERSON: The special visa waiver program, it's important that we protect those whose lives are truly at risk because of their efforts to assist whether it's our American military forces or other forces in Afghanistan.
I think it's also important to make the distinction -- otherwise, we undermine this program and risk losing it -- and not expand it to allow other people to come through the program that are not truly at risk.
And so it is -- I think it's the execution. And this gets back to following through on what the intent of these programs were. And let's be very specific and execute well, and not get sloppy in the execution and start having a lot of other folks coming through the program that really don't meet that criteria.
SHAHEEN: Thank you. Well, I think Congress has pretty narrowly focused the program. I appreciate that.
CORKER: Thank you.
And I do want to say I appreciate the fact that you're able to highlight that the secretary of state shares his views, ultimately has to carry out the policies of the president or is not successful. But I think it's good to distinguish that sometimes people have very different views, and they lobby strongly for those views.
And that's what we are wanting to hear is what Mr. Tillerson's views are on these issues and how he will attempt to persuade the administration. He may not be successful, but I thank you for highlighting that just now.
SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you again for your continued patience and participation in this very important discussion.
I would follow up with many of the discussions today on human rights issues. I just was notified that the administration has sanctioned two additional individuals in North Korea under the legislation that we passed this past year, the North Korean Sanctions Act.
The younger sister of Kim Jong-un was sanctioned for human rights violations, as well as the minister of state security in North Korea. I think it's important that we continue. And I appreciate your commitment that you gave me in the prior round of questioning about your commitment to the mandatory sanctioning of people who carry out human rights violations.
It's something that we can do together. It's something the administration and Congress should work together to make sure that we're trying to protect people from tyrants around the globe who would murder their own people.
Mr. Tillerson, you mentioned Southeast Asia in your last answer to Senator Shaheen. China has been actively reclaiming, building islands in the South China Sea, 3,000 acres of land since reclamation activities commenced in 2013.
Reports and open source information that they have militarized some of these reclamation areas. We authored legislation last year, resolution, that called for the Obama administration to take a very stronger, a much more aggressive approach to these activities in the South China Sea, including additional and more frequent freedom of navigation operations overflights of the South China Sea.
In July, The Hague, the International Tribunal ruled against China, held that they violated Philippines' sovereignty. What do you believe the position of the United States ought to be in the South China Sea and what more could we be doing to stop China from violating international law?
TILLERSON: Well, I think when it comes to China -- and you mentioned North Korea previous to this -- that we have really got to take what I would call a whole of China government approach.
I think part of where we have struggled with China -- and I mentioned in my opening remarks we do have important economic relationships. I said our economies are intertwined.
But we have got to step back and look at all of China's activities. And the one you mentioned now, the island building in the South China Sea, the declaration of control of airspace in waters over the Senkaku Islands with Japan, both of those are illegal actions. They're taking territory or control or declaring control of territories that are not rightfully China's.
The island building in the South China Sea itself in many respects, in my view, building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia's taking of Crimea. It's taking of territory that others lay claim to. The U.S. has never taken a side in the issues, but what we have advocated for is, look, that's a disputed area.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The vice president-elect, Mike Pence, up on Capitol Hill speaking to reporters. Let's listen in.
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MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: ... get his input on our legislative agenda. And I'm grateful for his hospitality and look very much forward to working with him in the days ahead.
QUESTION: Are there issues that you think can work with Senator Kaine on?
PENCE: We believe there are.
The president-elect has an aggressive agenda to get the economy moving again and rebuild our military, reform health care. But opportunities to work together on issues like infrastructure and child care, we think represent a significant chance to bring together leaders in both political parties.
But we talked about all that. We talked about the decisions that the Senate will be facing in the days ahead and -- but it was good to be able to sit with him. And I very much look forward to working with Senator Kaine and other colleagues that I will be meeting with in the days ahead.
BLITZER: So, there you have a little conversation, not much, with the vice president-elect. He's up on Capitol Hill, Jake, talking to members of the Senate, members of the House just getting together.
These are important meetings for him because he's going to be the key liaison, if you will, to the legislative branch.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: He used to be a member of the House Republican leadership. He is somebody who knows how Capitol Hill works.
Obviously, I ha Republican Congress, president-elect Trump has a lot that he hopes to accomplish. He -- Mike Pence has close relationships with people that president-elect Trump doesn't necessarily have close relationships with, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
So, he is a key member of the administration, key member of the White House when it comes to passing laws that Trump wants to put into effect.
BLITZER: And we heard earlier today from the president-elect that he thinks that they will in the coming days be able to repeal and replace Obamacare almost simultaneously on the same day.
In fact, he's speaking again now, Pence. Let's listen in.
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PENCE: ... making it clear, as he said in Philadelphia last fall, that we are committed to an orderly transition. The American people in November voted for change. And they voted
PENCE: They voted to repeal Obamacare. We're going to do that, but we're also going to replace it with health care reform that will improve the quality of health care and improve the quality of lives of Americans.
BLITZER: So, you heard him once again. They're going repeal and replace. The president-elect thinks they can do that nearly simultaneously and very soon.
TAPPER: There's been a lot of mixed signals about exactly what is going to happen in terms of the replacement.
First of all, the process -- I don't want to get too wonky here -- but process by which you would repeal Obamacare that would require only 50, 51 votes in the U.S. Senate is one that would only deal with the financial parts of Obamacare, the raising of taxes or the cuttings of taxes, the penalties, et cetera.
It would not necessarily deal with provisions such as not allowing insurance companies to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, so it's a very complicated process. There are people on Capitol Hill, experts on health care who say it actually would be kind of difficult to do it all in one fell swoop or even instantaneously.
Let's go back to the hearing right now, though, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rex Tillerson, president-elect Trump's nominee to be secretary of state.
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GARDNER: .. in India since 1968.
They have contributed nearly $50 million in aid to India. They have provided one-to-one scholarships for 145,000 Indian children.
But since 2014, compassion has been the target of multiple coordinated governmental attacks because of its unapologetically Christian belief. But it's been delivering humanitarian services to hundreds of thousands of Indian children.
But due to the restrictions by the Indian government, they have been unable to fund its India operation since February of 2016, despite having broken no laws.
I believe the State Department should take notice that this ill treatment of Compassion International should stop. And it's part of a broader pattern by the government of India, where other NGOs have seen similar problems. The State Department insist the Indian government release Compassion
funds, restore its FCRA licenses, and permit Compassion to immediately resume its humanitarian operations. And would just appreciate your assistance on that. This is a pattern that is very disturbing as an organization that does nothing more than try to help children in poverty.
TILLERSON: Well, Senator, I appreciate you bringing to my attention and look forward, if I'm confirmed, to discussing it further with you.
CORKER: I also appreciate you bringing it up. I know Chairman Royce very concerned about this issue. And I know he will be thankful that you brought it to everyone's attention here today. Thank you.
REP. TOM UDALL (D), NEW MEXICO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Tillerson, in your capacity as CEO of ExxonMobil, you praised the Paris agreement last year, noting that addressing climate change -- and I quote -- "requires broad-based practical solutions around the world."
Do you personally believe that the overall national interests of the United States are better served by staying in the Paris agreement? If so, why? And if not, why not?
TILLERSON: As I indicated earlier in a response, I think having a seat at the table to address this issue on a global basis -- and it is important that I think it's 190 countries or thereabouts have signed on to begin to take action. I think we're better served by being at that table than leaving that table.
UDALL: And I think you understand that It's been a generation or more that it's taken to get all the countries at the table to sign an agreement, be willing to move forward with targets.
And it would be very unfortunate, I think, to move away from the table. So thank you for your answer there.
I just wanted to follow up on a discussion Senator Flake had with you in the first round, urging you to look at the successes of our policy change in Cuba.
And this is mainly because you, as a CEO at Exxon, I suspect that you had a low tolerance for old ideas that had failed to produce positive results.