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Opposition to Exxon CEO’s Secretary of State Bid Intensifies

Opponents to the nomination of Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, “friend of Vladimir Putin,” to U.S. chief diplomat spot worry it could harm progress

Rex Tillerson opposition grows

Exxon Mobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson.

Eric Piermont/Getty

On Saturday, when a report surfaced that Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson was the frontrunner for Secretary of State, environmentalists were understandably aghast.

“This is terrifying,” Emily Southard, campaign director for ClimateTruth.org, said.

“This is unfathomable,” said May Boev, executive director of 350.org.

“Unconscionable, irresponsible and potentially catastrophic,” Carroll Muffett, president, Center for International Environmental Law added.

“Every American should tremble for our country,” said Conservation Law Foundation president Bradley Campbell.

They were largely concerned installing Tillerson could upend the U.S.’s progress on climate change, but the activists and lawyers weren’t the only ones unnerved. News that the oil and gas magnate could become America’s chief diplomat was met with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, where it broke one day after a CIA report was made public that suggested Russia interfered in the election to help Donald Trump win.

As CEO of Exxon — the sixth largest corporation in the world, worth $246 billion — Tillerson developed a close, personal friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Literally: Tillerson accepted the Kremlin’s official Order of Friendship in 2013.

“Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState,” Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted on Saturday.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sounded a similar note on Face the Nation the next day. “It’s a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin. And obviously they’ve done enormous deals together. That — that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat,” McCain said.

The Arizona senator joined his colleagues Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in calling for and Congressional inquiry into the Russian interference in the elections over the weekend. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan expressed support for an investigation on Monday.

On a conference call with leaders from the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace that afternoon, author and environmental activist Bill McKibben suggested Tillerson’s nomination was expressly in Russia’s interests.

“If one wanted a plausible explanation as to why Russia might want to mess around in our elections, this would provide it, if indeed our intelligence agencies are correct they did,” McKibben said.

Environmental and human rights activists had “heavily mobilized opposition” to stand against his nomination, McKibben added, but did not go into detail about the form that opposition would take.

“The phone is ringing off the hook, or whatever the Internet-era equivalent of that is, around 350.org. We’ve seen an unprecedented level of response — anger and outrage from people — at this nomination of Rex Tillerson. In the absurdist drama that is the Trump transition, this is the most farcical chapter yet.” 

In This Article: Donald Trump

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