Photo: World Economic Forum/Flickr (cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
President-elect Donald Trump made it official Tuesday in announcing his selection of Rex Tillerson, the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. who has been scrutinized for his relationship with Russia, to be the next secretary of state.
“I am honored by President-elect Trump’s nomination and share his vision for restoring the credibility of the United States’ foreign relations and advancing our country’s national security,” Tillerson said in a statement. “We must focus on strengthening our alliances, pursuing shared national interests, and enhancing the strength, security, and sovereignty of the United States.”
Tillerson spent most of his professional life at Exxon Mobil and has no experience in government. Yet, he has made many deals abroad.
Trump chose Tillerson, also the former president of the Boy Scouts of America, even after the CEO had expressed past support for a major trade deal Trump staunchly opposes.
In a statement, Trump said:
Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication, and smart deal making, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies. His tenacity, broad experience, and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of state. He will promote regional stability and focus on the core national security interests of the United States. Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none. I can think of no one more prepared, and no one more dedicated, to serve as secretary of state at this critical time in our history.
Here are some things to know about Tillerson.
1. Russian Ties
Tillerson’s business relationship with Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin could pose a challenge during his Senate confirmation.
In the 1990s, Tillerson was given responsibility for Exxon Mobil’s holdings in the country. In 2011, when Tillerson was CEO, Exxon Mobil entered a deal with Rosneft, a Russian oil company that was 75 percent owned by the Russian government at the time, according to ABC News.
Putin attended the signing ceremony for the deal that gave Exxon Mobil access to Arctic oil. After the two companies expanded their partnership, Putin awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship.
After Russia invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, Exxon Mobil halted the deal because of U.S. sanctions, which Tillerson opposed, saying, “We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively, and that’s a very hard thing to do.”
2. Opposition From Social Conservatives
Tillerson is also meeting resistance from some social conservatives for his support of allowing gay youth members in the Boy Scouts and for his company’s financial support of Planned Parenthood.
During Tillerson’s tenure as CEO, Exxon Mobil was among the corporations that gave money directly to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider.
Tillerson was a Boy Scout in his youth and went on to become an Eagle Scout. He became the national president of the Boy Scouts of America in 2010, and served in the role until 2012. He continued to serve as the organization’s national executive, where he reportedly played a key role in building a consensus to do away with the scouts’ ban on gay youth members.
“Under his chairmanship, Exxon Mobil’s score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate ‘Equality’ Index has … skyrocketed to 87 percent,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote.
Perkins continued to attack Tillerson’s record on social conservative issues:
Still, Trump calls Rex a “world-class player and dealmaker,” but if these are the kinds of deals Tillerson makes—sending dollars to an abortion business that’s just been referred for criminal prosecution and risking the well-being of young boys under his charge in an attempt to placate radical homosexual activists—then who knows what sort of ‘diplomacy’ he would champion at [the Department of State]?
3. History With Exxon
Tillerson oversees a company with about 70,000 employees operating in more than 200 offices around the world.
After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, Tillerson began his career at Exxon Mobil in 1975 as a production engineer. He worked his way up to become general manager of Exxon Mobil’s central production division, responsible for oil and gas production operations throughout a large portion of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Kansas.
If he is confirmed as the nation’s chief diplomat, his frame of reference for international relations will come largely through his professional dealmaking experience in the Middle East, Russia, and other areas.
In 1992, Tillerson was named production adviser to Exxon Corp. and by 1995, he was the president of Exxon Yemen Inc.
In January 1998, he became vice president of Exxon Capital Ventures (CIS) Inc. and president of Exxon Neftegas Limited, where he was responsible for Exxon’s holdings in Russia and the Caspian Sea as well as the Sakhalin I consortium operations offshore Sakhalin Island, Russia.
By December 1999, he was promoted to executive vice president of Exxon Mobil Development Company, named senior vice president of Exxon Mobil Corp. in August 2001, became president of the company in 2004, and on Jan. 1, 2006, was appointed the chairman and CEO.
While Tillerson was the CEO, oil prices broke records and Exxon Mobil’s profits helped make it the most valuable publicly traded company in the world, according to the Associated Press. Tillerson used the company’s profits to explore new regions for oil and acquire XTO Energy Inc., a pioneer in drilling shale to obtain natural gas.
Trump has owned between $50,000 and $100,000 in Exxon Mobil stock, ABC News reported, citing Trump’s 2015 financial disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission.
4. Establishment Backing
Tillerson has ties with and support from some of the Republican Party establishment.
On Facebook, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised the choice of Tillerson.
“Rex Tillerson is an excellent choice for secretary of state,” Rice wrote. “He will bring to the post remarkable and broad international experience; a deep understanding of the global economy; and a belief in America’s special role in the world.”
Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who both served under President George W. Bush, reportedly recommended Tillerson to Trump. Rice and Gates, both consultants, reportedly count Exxon Mobil among their clients.
In August 2015, Tillerson gave $5,000 to the Right to Rise super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president. In 2012, Tillerson contributed $50,000 toward getting former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney elected president, according to ABC News. However, there is no record of him contributing to Trump.
5. Trans-Pacific Partnership Supporter
Trump spent much of 2016 opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with the United States and 11 other countries. However, Tillerson has gone on record supporting the deal, the The Daily Beast reported.
“Even when a nation does not have a rich endowment of resources, we have learned that open markets and free trade can bring nations the energy supplies they need,” Tillerson said in a June 3, 2013, speech at the Asia Society Global Forum in the District of Columbia, adding:
But only governments can open the avenues of free trade. … One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The 11 nations that have been working to lower trade barriers and end protectionist policies under this partnership are a diverse mix of developed and developing economies. But all of them understand the value of open markets to growth and progress for every nation.
Commentary by Fred Lucas, the Daily Signal