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Trump’s secretary of state choice sets up possible confirmation fight

December 13, 2016 at 6:50 PM EDT
President-elect Donald Trump chose Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be his secretary of state. Tillerson rose through the ranks of the oil and gas giant over four decades, and expanded its business overseas, including operations in Russia, as chief executive of the company. Meanwhile, former Gov. Rick Perry is expected to be the Trump administration’s energy secretary. Judy Woodruff reports.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Another big seat is filled in the Trump Cabinet-to-be, and it sets up a potential confirmation fight.

The president-elect’s transition team confirmed this morning that a top oil executive is the choice for secretary of state.

After days of speculation, official word of the Rex Tillerson pick came before sunrise, followed by praise from the vice president-elect.

MIKE PENCE (R), Vice President-Elect: We just could not be more grateful that someone of Rex Tillerson’s proven leadership and accomplishments has been willing to step forward to serve our nation as our next secretary of state.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tillerson, a native Texan, is currently CEO of oil giant Exxon Mobil, among the world’s largest publicly traded companies. He rose through the ranks over four decades, and, as chief executive, he’s expanded Exxon Mobil’s business overseas, including its operations in Russia.

In a 2013 interview with Charlie rose for CBS News, Tillerson made clear his company will go wherever there’s oil.

REX TILLERSON, CEO, Exxon Mobil: My philosophy is to make money. And so if I can drill and make money, then that’s what I want to do. But it really is — for us, it’s about making quality investments for our shareholders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To that end, Exxon Mobil began working closely with the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft. That, in turn, brought Tillerson into close contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since then, he’s received the Russian Order of Friendship, and he’s said he opposes U.S. and European sanctions against Russia over its intervention in Ukraine.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today highlighted Tillerson’s experience, and said he looks forward to supporting his nomination. But the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, said he is deeply troubled by Tillerson’s vocal opposition to sanctions on Russia, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio voiced serious concerns about the planned nomination.

There’s also word that another Texan, former Governor Rick Perry, could be tapped to be energy secretary. But the transition at Energy could be rocky. The department said today that it will not provide the names of employees who’ve worked on climate change, as the Trump transition team requested.

There are also reports that Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke could be tapped for interior secretary.

Meanwhile, President Obama criticized Mr. Trump’s lack of interest in receiving a daily intelligence briefing. He spoke last night on “The Daily Show.”

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It doesn’t matter how smart you are. You have to have the best information possible to make the best decisions possible. And if you’re not getting their perspective, their detailed perspective, then you are flying blind.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back at Trump Tower today, the president-elect met with Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

BILL GATES: We had a good conversation about innovation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Others he met with, pro football greats Jim Brown and Ray Lewis and entertainer Kanye West.

Tonight, Mr. Trump is making the latest stop on what he’s calling his thank you tour, this time in Wisconsin.

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