Before President-elect Donald Trump had even officially selected ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to serve as secretary of state, Republican senators were piping up with concerns, particularly about Tillerson's ties to Russia. Tillerson has built a career on making oil deals abroad and he has established a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin along the way, even winning the Russian Order of Friendship award in 2013. Now that Trump has officially tapped Tillerson for the role, the question is whether those dissenters would go so far as to block his nomination.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said prior to Trump's announcement that he would give Tillerson a "chance," but he seemed wary about putting his concerns entirely aside. "It's a matter of concern to me that he has such a close personal relationship with Vladimir Putin," McCain said of Tillerson. "And obviously they've done enormous deals together and that would color his approach to Vladimir Putin and the Russian threat."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was similarly skeptical. "I don't know the man much at all, but let's put it this way: If you received an award from the Kremlin, [an] Order of Friendship, then we're gonna have some talkin'," Graham said. "We'll have some questions. I don't want to prejudge the guy, but that's a bit unnerving."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) came the closest to suggesting he might block Tillerson's nomination. In a statement released Tuesday, just hours after Trump announced he'd chosen Tillerson, Rubio voiced "serious concerns" about Tillerson's nomination. "The next secretary of state must be someone who views the world with moral clarity, is free of potential conflicts of interest, has a clear sense of America's interests, and will be a forceful advocate for America's foreign policy goals to the president, within the administration, and on the world stage," Rubio said in the statement. However, he vowed to do his part to "ensure [Tillerson] receives a full and fair but also thorough hearing."
It would take the defections of only three GOP senators to block one of Trump's Cabinet nominations.