WASHINGTON — ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson is Donald Trump‘s pick for secretary of state, at least two people close to Trump say.
The final announcement will be made in Tuesday, Trump said in a tweet on Monday.
Shortly after that announcement, Mitt Romney, another leading candidate, announced had not been chosen, reinforcing Tillerson as the likely choice.
Like Trump, Tillerson, 64, has no formal foreign policy experience, but has built close relationships with many world leaders by closing massive deals across Eurasia and the Middle East on behalf of the world’s largest energy company.
The two met on Saturday in New York, and Tillerson told the president-elect he would be honored to have the job of secretary of state. He left Saturday’s meeting believing he will be the pick, according to two sources familiar with his thinking.
Tillerson was originally considered a long-shot to be America’s top diplomat, but Trump is reportedly intrigued by the oil man’s view of the world.
“He is much more than a business executive. He is a world class player. He is in charge of, I guess, the largest company in the world,” Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “And to me, a great advantage is that he knows many of the players. And he knows them well.”
“He does massive deals in Russia. He does massive deals — for the company, not for himself, for the company,” the real estate mogul added.
Trump echoed those comments in a tweet later Sunday morning.
“Whether I choose him or not for ‘State’- Rex Tillerson, the Chairman & CEO of ExxonMobil, is a world class player and dealmaker. Stay tuned!”
As head of the world’s most valuable oil company, Tillerson could be a controversial pick due to concerns about climate change and his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump has called Tillerson a “world-class player” and the transition team is likely to stress that his mastery of complex negotiations and knowledge of geopolitical factors shaping the oil industry are directly relevant to heading US diplomacy and managing the State Department.
Trump’s decision to press ahead with the Tillerson nomination could ignite the first big showdown between the new White House and Capitol Hill and set a benchmark for Republicans worried about the direction of the president-elect’s own foreign policy. It will also embolden Democrats who see Tillerson as perhaps the most vulnerable Trump Cabinet appointee to a bruising Senate confirmation battle.
Republican hawks such as Sens. John McCain and Marco Rubio are deeply perturbed by the close relationship Tillerson forged with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They fear Trump and Tillerson would bring US policy far more in line with Russia, which is locked in the worst confrontation with Washington since the Cold War and is seeking to again become a great power rival to the United States.
On Sunday morning, Rubio, a former GOP presidential primary rival of Trump’s, expressed concern about a Tillerson pick without naming the oil executive.
“Being a ‘friend of Vladimir’ is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState – MR,” Rubio tweeted.
McCain told CNN on Saturday that he had concerns about Tillerson’s relationship to Russia and wants to hear his answers to such during his would-be hearing before making up his mind.
“What about all the other things — right now, the targeting of hospitals by Russian aircraft with precision weapons in Syria, in Aleppo?” the Arizona Republican asked ahead of the Army-Navy football game. “Those are the kind of questions that we need to ask about the relationship with Vladimir Putin.”
In 2011, Exxon signed a deal with Russian oil giant Rosneft to provide access to lucrative oil resources in the Arctic.
Rosneft’s largest shareholder is the Russian government. Putin attended the Exxon signing ceremony and later awarded Tillerson the country’s Order of Friendship.
Other contenders for the secretary of state position included former CIA Director David Petraeus; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker; and former UN Ambassador John Bolton.
Bolton could become the #2 at the State Department, but no offer has yet been extended. The transition wants to announce the secretary of state nominee and deputy as a package deal next week.