Washington- In a nine-hour Senate confirmation hearing, the former chief executive of oil company Exxon Mobil said he favored maintaining U.S. sanctions against Russia for now and that NATO allies were right to be alarmed by Moscow’s growing aggression.
Senators have expressed concern about Rex Tillerson’s ties to Russia while at Exxon Mobil and Trump’s desire to improve relations with Moscow.
Tillerson, the Secretary of State Nominee, blamed Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine since 2014 on an “absence of American leadership” and said the United States should have taken stronger actions to deter Moscow.
Asked if he could make unbiased decisions after his time at Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly traded oil producer, he said he would act in America’s interests.
Trump’s nominee also branded Russia a “danger” during the hearing, signaling that he is prepared to diverge from the president-elect and take a firm line with Moscow.
The hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was interrupted sporadically by protesters.
Tillerson attacked China and said “Beijing has fueled regional tensions by turning tiny, ecologically fragile reefs and islets in the strategically vital South China Sea into artificial islands hosting military facilities.”
In his remarks he also criticized Beijing for failing to sufficiently help rein in North Korea.
“China has proven a willingness to act with abandon in the pursuit of its own goals which at times has put it in conflict with American interests. We have to deal with what we see, not what we hope,” Tillerson said.
As for Secretary of Justice Nominee Jeff Sessions, he had a second day of hearing after he denied on Tuesday accusations of racism and tried to reassure the concerned members that he won’t harm any minorities nor affect personal freedoms.
Sessions didn’t wait for his record on race to be brought up before addressing it, diverging from his prepared statement to address “head on” the very allegations that helped sink his nomination for a judgeship in 1986.
“I abhor the Klan and its hateful ideology,” Sessions said.
He also pledged to recuse himself from all investigations involving Hillary Clinton, citing inflammatory comments he made during a “contentious” campaign season, and said he would respect Supreme Court rulings and U.S. law on issues including abortion, torture and same-sex marriage even if he does not agree with them.