What a day! What a marvelous day! Republicans initially scheduled five hearings for one day—this day—despite the notable absence of standard ethics paperwork, but eventually bowed to pressure and delayed those of Betsy DeVos and Mike Pompeo. Now there are three, which is still a lot to pay attention to at once! I wonder why Republican leadership planned it that way?
We’ll be watching the second round of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing, which should include historic testimony from Senate colleague Cory Booker along with Rep. John Lewis and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus. We’ll also be watching Rex Tillerson’s hearing for Secretary of State, which is, uh, timely, and peek in on Elaine Chao’s hearing for Transportation Secretary.
Please join us in this day of nonstop fun and laughs.
This hearing is finally, finally wrapping up. It’s unclear, at this point, whether he will be confirmed; several members of the committee cited reservations about his “moral clarity.” Personally, I am clear on the fact that my back hurts and I’m terrified of this country.
“Almost every senator here today has done an outstanding job,” Corker said, perhaps nodding towards Rubio.
If Rubio defects that imperils Tillerson’s ability to get committee approval, which is split 11-10 Republican to Democrat. As Politico notes:
Republican leaders could simply bring the nomination directly to the Senate floor, sidestepping the committee, but that would be a poor sign for his prospects.
“We can’t achieve moral clarity with rhetorical ambiguity,” Rubio just told Tillerson, referencing Tillerson’s reluctance to label various countries as human rights abusers.
So here are a few things we’ve learned about Rex Tillerson, a very rich man who’s received an Order of Friendship award from Vladimir Putin:
-He believes that climate change is happening but doesn’t seem all that interested in dealing with it.
-He’s likely not going to try to stop Israel from abandoning a two-state solution.
-There are many, many things he should definitely know about that he claims not to know about.
-He won’t disavow the actions of Philippines president and avowed mass murderer Rodrigo Duterte, who recently admitted to throwing a man out of a helicopter.
-He will not confirm that he’ll allow a traveling press to accompany him, as is customary for the Secretary of State.
-He believes the “motives” of the Iraq war were “commendable.”
-He says that he has not discussed Russia—the country that U.S. intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believe launched a cyber-attack on this country—in-depth with the President-Elect that said cyber-attacks were reportedly aimed to help elect. Sessions acknowledged that Russia’s “recent activities have disregarded American interests.”
-He would not promise to recuse himself from ExxonMobil-related decisions beyond the statutory recusal period of one year.
We’re talking about climate change.
Sen. Jeff Merkley spoke about forest fires, extinctions, and rising seas “happening on the ground right now.”
“Do you see [climate change] as a national security issue?”
“I don’t see it as the eminent national security threat that perhaps others do,” Tillerson replied. (In May, Tillerson said: “At Exxon Mobil, we share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action.”)
Tillerson went on to claim that “the science is not conclusive.” So that seems like a bit of a turnaround, although the Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace reported that as of 2015 Exxon has continued quietly funding groups that urge climate skepticism. His line is that we need to have a “seat at the table” in climate negotiations to “see what everyone else is doing,” but wouldn’t budge much further than that.
Tillerson appears fairly unwilling to continue on with the U.S.’s leadership role in pushing the world to fight climate change.
No one, as far as I’m aware, has asked Tillerson about the Trump administration’s extremely dangerous proposal to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Republicans who’ve questioned Tillerson on Israel have pressed him to criticize Kerry’s speech and the UN anti-settlements resolution; the issue of settlements, the subject of Kerry’s speech, was downplayed.
Cory Booker quoted Trump national security advisor/conspiracy theorist Michael Flynn calling Islam a “cancer.”
“That can’t be constructive,” Booker said.
“Mutual respect” is important, Tillerson agreed, without specifically denouncing anti-Islam rhetoric. Booker pressed Tillerson on how anti-Islam rhetoric helps extremist recruitment efforts, a question that Tillerson basically dodged.
“We’ve got to disrupt their ability to reach large numbers of people who could be persuaded,” Tillerson said.
ICYMI, here’s a video of Sen. Marco Rubio getting real aggressive with Tillerson on Russia earlier today:
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut) challenged Tillerson on his earlier answer about the Philippines.
“If you’re not ready to say today that what happens in the Philippines is a human rights violation,” Murphy said, “Can you maybe give us a little bit of a sense of what countries today you would consider to be violators of human rights, or how you’re going to make judgments about who is a human rights violator?”
“I am going to act on factual information. I am not going to act on what people write about in the newspapers, or about what people brag they’ve done, because people brag about things that they may or may not have done. It’s just not my nature” to conclude without facts, Tillerson said. “I’ve just not seen the information,” he reiterated, for the 900th time.
That’s weird, because a lot of us have?
“I don’t know that there is anybody on this committee that would deny that there are extrajudicial killings ... what more information would you need?” Murphy asked.
“I’m sure the committee has seen a lot of evidence that I have not seen. You’re asking me to make a judgment on only what I’m being told,” Tillerson replied. Murphy shot back that he likely wasn’t going to literally see a video of someone getting shot: “Oftentimes the evidence is the objective reporting we get from sources on the ground from places like inside the Philippines.”
Tillerson also said that he believes the motives behind the Iraq war were “commendable,” so. Holy shit, folks!
“I don’t know of any, uh, plans to alter the One China position,” Tillerson says, after being pressed on the incoming administration’s position on Taiwan.
“I’m glad you came back after lunch, Mr. Tillerson” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said. She asked if Tillerson supports a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.
“I do not support a blanket type rejection of any group of people, but clearly we have serious challenges being able to vet people coming into the country,” he answered. She also asked if Tillerson supports creating a national registry of Muslims. His answer was rather alarming:
“I would need a lot more information about how that system would be constructed,” he said. “It would require much more information on how that would even be approached.” Oh...?
Rubio’s back at it with another aggressive line of questioning about human rights violations in China, the Philippines, and Saudi Arabia. Tillerson continues to rely on the “I don’t have enough information” argument, which isn’t appearing to go over too well with Rubio—nor should it, considering he’s up for Secretary of State and Rubio is asking him to disagree with pretty obviously horrible shit.
Noting an LA Times report about Rodrigo Duterte’s infamous drug raids in the Philippines that have killed thousands, Rubio asked: “In your view, is this the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign?”
Seems like a pretty easy answer, but Tillerson replied that the U.S. has had a long friendship with the Philippines, and “we need to ensure that they stay an ally.” Sounds about right! He also said that he’d rather get his information from intelligence, as opposed to newspapers, which feels rather timely; “It’s an area I would want to understand in greater detail.” Rubio countered, saying that Duterte himself has bragged about the killings.
Rubio also pressed Tillerson on Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights, which Tillerson claimed he needed to study in greater detail. “You’re not familiar of the state of affairs in Saudi Arabia for women? They can’t drive,” Rubio said. “What more information would you need?”
After noting the plausible dangers of intervention on that point, Tillerson eventually said, “there seems to be some misunderstanding that I view the world through a different lens, I do not.”
If you want to know more about Rex Tillerson’s history with Exxon, I recommend checking out this Steve Coll piece for the New Yorker. Coll published a book about Exxon, Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, back in 2012.
“In nominating Tillerson, Trump is handing the State Department to a man who has worked his whole life running a parallel quasi-state, for the benefit of shareholders, fashioning relationships with foreign leaders that may or may not conform to the interests of the United States government,” Coll wrote, referring to Tillerson’s nomination as confirming the belief of many “that American power is best understood as a raw, neocolonial exercise in securing resources.”
Another frightening point about what Tillerson’s long career at Exxon may have taught him:
“The right kinds of dictators can be more predictable and profitable than democracies. ExxonMobil has had more luck making money in Equatorial Guinea, a small, oil-rich West African dictatorship that has been ruled for decades by a single family, than in Alaska, where raucous electoral politics has made it hard for Exxon to nail down stable deal terms.”
Sen. Cory Booker, the newest member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, pressed Tillerson on his characterization of Obama’s policies abroad as “weakness.” Tillerson asserts that he would have supported a show of military force in Crimea, which Booker points out could lead to escalation.
He also asked whether Tillerson would be open with the press. “Will you bring press corps with you as you travel overseas?”
Tillerson dodged a bit, which is somewhat concerning! “If confirmed, I will look into what will be appropriate,” he said, maintaining that he is committed to “transparency” with the American people.
Sessions’ confirmation hearing has ended.
William Smith, former chief counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke on behalf of Sessions after Richmond’s testimony. Smith, who has known Sessions for several decades, said Sessions “crushed” his testimony yesterday and that he is definitely not a racist.
“We’ve eaten Johnny Rockets burgers together,” he said.
Richmond is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and he’s saying that they oppose Sessions’ appointment. “Senator Sessions has advanced an agenda that will do great harm to African American communities.” Says he’s demonstrated a “total disregard” to the equal application of the law as it applies to black Americans, and points out he opposed criminal justice reform. “Jeff Sessions cannot be relied upon to enforce the voting rights act.” Says he’s proven himself “unfit to serve in the role of attorney general.” Closes by saying he wouldn’t have the opportunity to testify if it weren’t for men like John Lewis, who was ‘beaten within an inch of his life” fighting for civil rights. Speaks of the legacy of beating, torture, and rape of civil rights activists.
Now he’s addressing the Senators. “You all must face a choice. Be courageous or be complicit. If you vote to confirm Senator Sessions, you take ownership of everything he may do or not do in office.”
A protester against Guantanamo just interrupted Cedric Richmond, a black Democratic Senator with a strong human rights record, so that’s pretty stupid.
Richmond says that Grassley forcing John Lewis to testify very late is “beyond the pale” and disrespectful to his civil rights records, “the equivalent of being sent to the back of the bus.”
A protestor interrupted Rep. Cedric Richmond before he could speak, for some reason:
Here’s something awful!
In particularly powerful testimony against Jeff Sessions, John Lewis is testifying about his historic participation in the Selma to Mongtomery marches.
“We’ve come a distance. we’ve made progress. but we’re not there yet. there are forces that would take us back to another place. But we don’t want to go back, we don’t want to go forward.”
He’s also taking aim at all the speakers who are insisting that Sessions has been personally friendly to them and is thus not prejudiced: “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you. We need someone who’s gonna stand up, speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who have been discriminated against.”
The Tillerson hearing is in recess, so here’s a video of Putin and Tillerson toasting each other with champagne:
Willie Huntley speaking for Sessions: “At no point in the time that I’ve known Jeff Sessions has he demonstrated any racial insensitivity.” And now here comes civil rights hero John Lewis to fuck that right up.
Booker is speaking against Sessions’s record: “With all that is at stake in our nation now... I pray that my colleagues will join me in opposing this nomination.” The Congressional Black Caucus sits behind him, and Rep. John Lewis, who will speak later, sits beside him. Former US Attorney Willie Huntley is speaking now.
Corey Booker is deeeestroyyyiiinnnnng Jeff Sessions, saying he’s breaking with longstanding tradition (Senators don’t usually testify against each other) because Sessions’ record is so poor.