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January 11, 2017

Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson hesitated to call the Philippines a human rights violator when asked for his opinion Wednesday at his Senate confirmation hearing. When pressed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the former ExxonMobil executive insisted he would need more information before he could assess whether the brutal crackdown on drugs led by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte that has killed thousands could classify as a human rights abuse.

Rubio responded by pointing out that Tillerson actually already has access to the information, given that it was published in an article in the Los Angeles Times and that Duterte was quoted for the piece. Tillerson stuck to his defense, claiming he could not "rely solely on media reports." However, he did note that he knows the Philippines is a U.S. ally, and "we need to make sure they stay an ally."

Tillerson was similarly circumspect in answering Rubio's questions about human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. While his initial response to Rubio's question was again that he'd need "greater information," Rubio refused to believe Tillerson was unaware of what was going on in Saudi Arabia. "You're not familiar with the state of affairs for people in Saudi Arabia, what life is like for women? They can't drive," Rubio said. "They have people jailed and lashed. You are familiar with all of that?"

Catch a portion of the tense exchange below. Becca Stanek