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Rubio in Spotlight Over Tillerson Vote 01/23 06:10

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- All eyes are on Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida as a Senate 
committee is poised to vote on President Donald Trump's nominee to be secretary 
of state.

   The nomination of Rex Tillerson got a boost on Sunday after two influential 
Republican senators --- John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South 
Carolina --- offered tepid endorsements of the former Exxon Mobil chief. The 
focus shifts to the Foreign Relations Committee on Monday afternoon as the 
members, including Rubio, cast their votes on Tillerson.

   Rubio, whom Trump defeated for the GOP presidential nomination last year, 
clashed with Tillerson at a committee hearing earlier this month. Rubio bridled 
at his refusal to label Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" or 
condemn human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines in strong 
enough terms. He chided Tillerson over the need for "moral clarity."

   But as the committee prepares to vote on Tillerson's nomination, Rubio faces 
a dilemma. He must either back down, which means a retreat from a strong stand 
on Russia and human rights, or cross Trump in the first days of his presidency.

   A "no" vote from Rubio would not doom Tillerson's confirmation, because the 
nomination could go directly to the Senate floor without a positive committee 
recommendation. But it would be an embarrassing rebuke to Trump just as his 
presidency gets underway, with questions swirling about his ties to Russia. GOP 
party activists would be certain to remember Rubio's defection, although it's 
impossible to predict how such a vote might look years from now if Rubio ever 
runs for president again.

   Ahead of the vote Rubio was keeping fellow senators and everyone else 
guessing. After Trump was sworn in on Friday, Rubio was tight-lipped, saying 
only that he would make his decision "certainly before the vote" and that 
Tillerson's responses to written questions had addressed some of his concerns.

   Neither McCain nor Graham is on the committee, but their support could make 
it tougher for Rubio to remain a holdout. McCain said Tillerson's responses to 
his questions, particularly in private, convinced him that the nominee could 
spearhead U.S. diplomacy.

   "Though we still have concerns about his past dealings with the Russian 
government and President Vladimir Putin, we believe that Mr. Tillerson can be 
an effective advocate for U.S. interests," McCain and Graham said in a joint 
statement on Sunday.

   Their support makes Tillerson's ultimate confirmation more likely in the 
narrowly divided Senate, where Republicans hold a 52-48 edge. The Foreign 
Relations Committee is narrowly split between 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, 
so Republicans must all hold together to vote Tillerson out favorably unless he 
gets some Democratic backing.

   Tillerson himself, former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, refused to respond 
to questions about Rubio's opposition as he traversed the Capitol on Friday 
after attending Trump's inauguration. Tillerson has a long record of doing 
deals in Russia and questioned U.S. sanctions against Russia, which has 
provoked concerns from Democrats and some Republicans over his selection.

   Further roiling the debate is U.S. intelligence's assessment that Russia 
meddled in the presidential election to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.


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