Sen. Peters’ Remarks on Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson

Peters: Sec. of State must put the American people first - not his former shareholders and friends in the Exxon boardroom or Vladimir Putin

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Gary Peters spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate last night about why he will not support the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

Watch his remarks here.

Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. President, I rise to express my opposition to the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

The position of Secretary of State was one of the original four Cabinet positions created by President George Washington.

Even after we declared, fought for and won our independence as a new country, our founders knew that the world is interconnected. They understood that we needed to engage with other countries and manage our affairs around the world.

Our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, had previously been our minister to France, our closest ally at the time of our nation’s founding.

Today, the role of Secretary of State is as important as ever. We need a Secretary who will reassure our allies, project strength and competence to the world and push back against the President’s worst impulses.

Having reviewed his qualifications and testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am unfortunately convinced that Mr. Tillerson is not the right person to lead the State Department and represent the United States abroad.

Mr. Tillerson has spent decades at Exxon Mobil, where he rose through the ranks from an engineer to Chairman and CEO.

Mr. President, we should value hard work and success in the private sector, but we also must ask what the President’s nominees were working toward.

Mr. Tillerson’s success at Exxon can, in large part, be attributed to deals he struck and connections he made with Russian plutocrats and Government officials, including Vladimir Putin.

Over the years, Mr. Tillerson’s views toward Vladimir Putin have been, in a word, flexible.  Mr. Tillerson has always put Exxon first, cozying up to Putin’s authoritarian regime when it suited his own business interests.

In 2008, he spoke out against the Russian government’s disrespect for the rule of law and its judicial system. But in 2011, after reaching a $500 billion deal with the Russian state owned oil company, he changed his views.

Under Vladimir Putin, the Russian government silences dissent. They murder political rivals and journalists. Many of Putin’s political opponents have been poisoned or shot.

Since 2000, at least 34 journalists have been murdered in Russia, many by government or military officials.

Mr. Tillerson was even awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Putin in 2012, one of the highest honors Russia conveys on foreigners.

When Congress was working in a bipartisan manner to enact sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Exxon Mobil was lobbying against the bill under the leadership of Mr. Tillerson.

During his confirmation hearing, his answers demonstrated either a lack of understanding or a willful ignorance of the destabilizing role Russia plays around the world.

Last year I traveled to Ukraine and Estonia, countries that are on the front-line of Russian aggression. They are genuinely concerned about President Trump’s desire to embrace Russia. I heard firsthand how important the support, and presence, of the United States is to our allies in the Baltics.

In recent years Russia’s belligerence has only grown. Russia has conducted a cyber-attack against Estonia, seized territory in Georgia, kidnapped an Estonian border guard, and annexed Crimea. Russian military patrols have approached NATO member territory and come recklessly close to U.S. military vessels.  These irresponsible actions can have severe, dangerous consequences.

But what should be most disturbing to any American is that last year Russia interfered in our election to undermine public faith in our democratic process.

The intelligence community reported that Vladimir Putin himself ordered the interference – a significant escalation of Russian attempts sow chaos in the West.

I recognize the President’s right to choose his appointments to the Cabinet. But as the Senate provides its advice and consent, there are still too many unanswered questions for me to support this nomination.

We still have not seen President Trump’s tax returns, breaking a 40-year tradition adhered to by nominees of both parties. This lack of transparency means we do not know about the Trump family’s possible past, and current, business ties to Russia.

What message do we send our allies if the Secretary of State, and potentially even the President, have a history of significant business dealings with a corrupt regime?

How will this impact our moral authority to take action against corruption worldwide?

The Secretary of State is the United States’ Ambassador to the world. It is essential that the Secretary is someone who can provide unquestionable leadership and represent American values.

There must be no question that the Secretary of State is acting in the best interests of the United States and willing to take strong action to advance our interests. He must put the American people first – not his former shareholders and friends in the Exxon boardroom.

I am concerned that Mr. Tillerson will prematurely lift the sanctions that have been put in place against Russia. Sanctions are not meant to be permanent, but they should not be removed until they have achieved their purpose.

When our Secretary of State looks at a map of the Baltic Region, we need a statesman who sees allies that contribute to the NATO alliance, not a new opportunity for offshore drilling.

The Senate must ensure there are moderating voices in the Trump Administration’s national security team.

I supported the nominations of Secretary Mattis to lead the Department of Defense, Secretary Kelly to lead the Department of Homeland Security, and Ambassador Haley to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations because I believe they will serve as a positive influence against the worst instincts and erratic tendencies of President Trump and his political advisers.

America MUST stand by its allies and serve as a shining example of democracy.

I cannot support a Secretary of State nominee if there is any doubt as to whether they will be a strong, independent voice within the Trump Administration. The events of the past week have made the need for such leadership abundantly clear.

That is why I will vote against the nomination of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and urge my colleagues to do the same.”