Senate Confirms Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State

Democrats did not have the numbers to block Rex Tillerson from becoming the nation's chief diplomat

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President Donald Trump's pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has been confirmed by the Senate after several Democrats crossed party lines to back the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

The vote on Tillerson came as tension continues to build among congressional Republicans and Democrats over Trump's executive order on immigrants and refugees. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer declared the order a litmus test for Trump's remaining Cabinet choices. Any that refuse to publicly reject the "horrible" new policy should be opposed, the New York Democrat said.

But the Democrats just didn't have the numbers to block Tillerson from becoming the nation's chief diplomat. Republicans held a four-seat advantage in the Senate and three Democrats — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia — cast their ballots for Tillerson.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also supported Tillerson. 

The opening days of the Trump administration have seen little of the honeymoon period new presidents usually experience. The chief battleground has been Trump's executive order temporarily blocking refugees worldwide and anyone from seven Muslim-majority nations.

With liberal groups pressing them to fight Trump, Democrats used delay tactics on Trump nominees on Tuesday. It's one of their limited weapons as the congressional minority to hamper the GOP.

Tillerson was sworn in late Wednesday.

Meanwhile, A Senate committee approved President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, in a party-line vote Wednesday. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to nominate Sessions to serve as attorney general. Democrats had scuttled a planned vote Tuesday in the wake of Trump's decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Several Democrats said they had no confidence Sessions would be able to stand up to Trump.

The 11-9 vote was along party lines. All the panel's Democrats voted against the nomination.

Sessions is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. Republicans have been strongly supportive of their colleague, arguing that he will follow the law and maintain traditional independence from Trump, if needed.

Several other votes happened Wednesday to get Trump nominees approved by committees, clearing them for confirmation in the full Senate.

Republicans pushed two Trump nominees through the Senate Finance Committee, a day after Democrats said both men had lied to Congress about their financial background and blocked those votes.

The Senate committee approved both Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump's pick for health secretary, and Steve Mnuchin, Trump's designee for treasury secretary without Democrats present after the GOP changed the panel's rules.

The ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, Ron Wyden of Oregon, said on Twitter that the rule changes were unprecedented and done on a "partisan basis." 

Price is headed for a post that would place him at the lead of Republican efforts to erase former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. Democrats cited a newspaper report that officials of an Australian biomed company said Price received a special offer to buy their stock at reduced prices, despite Price's congressional testimony that the offer was available to all investors.

Democrats said a bank run by Mnuchin used a process for handling home foreclosures that critics have associated with fraud.

Both men and congressional Republicans said they'd done nothing wrong.

Democrats also temporally thwarted a Senate confirmation vote on Trump's pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency by boycotting a key committee meeting.

The seats reserved for the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were empty as Wednesday's meeting to discuss to nomination of Scott Pruitt was called to order. Committee rules require that at least two members of the minority party be present for a vote to be held.

Chairman John Barrasso accused the absent Democrats of engaging in obstruction amounting to nothing more than "political theater." After recessing, the Wyoming Republican pledged to "do what is necessary" to advance Pruitt's nomination, raising the possibility the GOP majority may seek a rules change to push the issue to a vote before the full Senate.

Like Trump, Pruitt has previously cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump's earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

"I do not believe climate change is a hoax," Pruitt said.

Trump's pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., faces a vote by the Homeland Security and Government Affairs panel, though veteran Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona — a critic of Mulvaney's previous stands on Pentagon spending — has yet to commit his support.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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