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3 Democrats break party lines to confirm Rex Tillerson as secretary of state

Tillerson will soon officially head up the State Department.


Amrita Khalid


Posted on Feb 1, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 2:13 am CDT

The Senate voted on Wednesday nearly along party lines to confirm former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as America’s next secretary of state. 

In a 56-43 vote, most Democrats rejected the former oil executive with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But three Democrats broke party ranks to send President Donald Trump the fourth member of his cabinet. 

Red and purple staters that broke with the Democratic caucus looking to sink Tillerson included Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.), and Sen. Angus King (I-ME). 

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) abstained. 

With his vast universe of business interests and opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia, Tillerson quickly emerged as one of the most contentious members of Trump’s cabinet. 

Tillerson’s confirmation makes him the most divisive secretary of state in recent history. More senators opposed Tillerson than Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (78-7), Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig (93-6), or Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (85-13). Senate confirmation for both of Obama Secretaries of State John Kerry (94-3) and Hillary Clinton (94-2) were almost unanimous.

The confirmation of Tillerson to head the State Department means that the wings of U.S. government responsible for foreign affairs, defense, and homeland security all have agency leadership. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Defense Secretary James Mattis were easily confirmed in Trump’s first week. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), also enjoyed a swift confirmation.

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*First Published: Feb 1, 2017, 3:18 pm CST