Three words sum up Rex Tillerson’s performance yesterday in his confirmation hearing for Secretary of State:
Since he was nominated, many of us have pointed out the myriad reasons that Rex Tillerson is an unacceptable pick for Secretary of State. His 40+ year career as an oilman with ExxonMobil is riddled with disqualifying actions: denying climate science, destroying ecosystems, cutting deals with authoritarians, and abusing human rights.
However, we didn’t expect just how unprepared Rex Tillerson would be to answer basic questions when testifying in support of his confirmation as Secretary of State in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Time and again, Rex was unable to provide adequate – or any – answers to reasonable questions from Senators on both sides of the aisle.
On Russia, Rex refused to take a stand on whether Putin is a war criminal.
On Philippine leader Duterte’s extra-judicial killings, Rex refused to express an opinion.
On President-Elect Trump’s proposed “Muslim registry,” Rex had no response.
The list goes on and on, summed up nicely in this tweet:
— Sunjeev Bery (@SunjeevBery) January 11, 2017
One important area where Rex was particularly evasive was the issue of climate change, and specifically Exxon’s role in sowing doubt about climate science for decades despite knowing the truth since the 1970s – or even earlier.
Senator Tim Kaine provided fireworks with strong questions regarding Exxon’s role in the climate crisis, with the Senator finally calling Tillerson out for refusing to answer his questions:
Senator Kaine: “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or do you refuse to answer my question?”
Tillerson: “A little of both.”
— David Turnbull (@david_turnbull) January 11, 2017
If Rex Tillerson had been testifying at the Senate yesterday as CEO of ExxonMobil, his efforts to dodge and weasel out of answering questions may have been seen as a perhaps understandable approach for a businessman protecting his company. But he wasn’t there as CEO of ExxonMobil. Rex Tillerson was at the Senate as the nominee to be our nation’s top diplomat. He was there interviewing for a job to serve the American public. Yet in that interview, he acted like a corporate executive trying to protect his company, not a nominee being transparent about how he would protect this country’s interests.
It’s not a huge surprise that Rex acted like a corporate executive instead of a public servant. After all, he’s only ever worked at ExxonMobil and has no experience as a public servant. He’s wholly unqualified for the role he’s been nominated to fill.
Climate denial exposed
Later in the marathon day, Senator Jeff Merkley finally forced Tillerson to expose his true climate-denying ways, with an expertly crafted line of questioning. David Roberts at Vox has a great run-down. He writes:
“Tillerson acknowledges that there are droughts and insect infestations, but says ‘the science behind the clear connection is not conclusive.’ He says there are ‘many reports out there’ that say we can’t connect individual weather and climactic events to global warming.
“This kind of hair-splitting about causality is an old chestnut in climate debates, but it too is rapidly being rendered anachronistic. The National Academies of Science recently issued a book-length report, authored by dozens of researchers, surveying the rapidly maturing field of attribution science.”
This exchange showed once and for all that Rex Tillerson is, in fact, a climate denier.
Perhaps even worse than being evasive, it’s possible Rex outright lied on multiple occasions during the hearing.
First, Rex was pushed on Exxon’s role in lobbying against Russia sanctions the Obama industry has imposed.
“I have never lobbied against sanctions,” Tillerson said. “To my knowledge, Exxon never directly lobbied against sanctions.”
Multiple Senators, including Senator Menendez, came back to expose this claim as false, submitting ExxonMobil’s own lobbying disclosure documents as proof. Even Republican Committee Chair Senator Bob Corker chimed in to say he’d received a call from Rex to discuss the sanctions. Similarly, Rex denied that Exxon had evaded Iran sanctions – a statement also easily proven false.
But Rex’s lies didn’t end at sanctions. He also lied about the massive financial support the fossil fuel industry receives each year by way of fossil fuel subsidies. Senator Shaheen asked Rex about the United States’ role in living up to the 2009 G20 commitment to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies.
Tillerson’s reply? “I’m not aware of anything the fossil fuel industry gets that I would characterize as a subsidy.”
If you’ve followed Oil Change International’s work for any period of time, you know that statement is a lie. And we’re not alone in calling it out. The U.S. Government, the International Monetary Fund, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Energy Agency, and other august bodies agree that the fossil fuel industry receives billions in government handouts each year.
My colleagues did some quick analysis and discovered that ExxonMobil alone could be receiving as much as $1 billion in subsidies each year, in fact. Subsidies expert Doug Koplow at Earthtrack has demolished Rex’s claim as well.
In all, Rex Tillerson had a very, very bad day at the Senate. A sampling of headlines tells the story:
“Rex Tillerson’s Confirmation Hearing Goes Badly for Him”
“Human rights groups slam Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of State”
“In Rocky Hearing, Rex Tillerson Tries to Separate From Trump”
“Tillerson fails to win over key GOP senators”
Yesterday’s hearing confirmed what we already knew, perhaps even more than we may have expected. Rex Tillerson is an unacceptable choice for Secretary of State. We must Separate Oil and State.