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Donald Trump

US Senate confirms Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, as Democrats fail to delay vote

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 5:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 February, 2017, 7:27am

The US Senate confirmed Rex Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state on Wednesday, filling a key spot on the Republican’s national security team despite concerns about the former Exxon Mobil chief executive officer’s ties to Russia.

In the vote, 56 senators backed Tillerson, and 43 voted no. The tally was largely along party lines, with every Republican favouring Tillerson, along with four members of the Democratic caucus, Senators Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin and Mark Warner as well as Angus King, an independent.

Democratic Senator Chris Coons did not vote.

Senate Democrats had tried, but failed, to delay the vote because of Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries and temporarily halting the entry of refugees.

The Senators said they wanted to ask Tillerson more questions about the issue after Trump signed the order on Friday.

Tillerson will this week take charge of a US State Department simmering with opposition to President Donald Trump’s refugee and travel ban.

The 64-year-old oilman is a political newcomer who will be sworn in as Washington’s top diplomat.

He will take over a department already rattled by senior-level resignations and by Trump’s order suspending refugee arrivals and visas for citizens from some Muslim countries.

On Tuesday, around 1,000 officials from US missions across the globe submitted a “dissent cable” through an official channel, decrying Trump’s ban as an affront to American values.

The State Department “dissent channel” has existed since the era of the Vietnam War to allow diplomats to question official policy, but the scale of the protest is unprecedented.

One official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, warned a bureaucratic “insurgency” against Trump is getting under way. Others spoke of colleagues bursting into tears.

Tillerson has not made his views known on Trump’s executive order, but the White House’s response was uncompromising.

Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer said the travel restrictions would help weed out extremists and keep America safe.

The dissident diplomats, Spicer declared, “should either get with the programme or they can go.”

His threat outraged many at the State Department, who argue that their in-house experts should have been consulted before the order was signed.

Thomas Countryman, a 35-year veteran career diplomat who retired on Monday as an assistant secretary of state, urged Tillerson to promise to protect his new employees from retribution.

“If you don’t trust professional public servants to help you on foreign policy then by definition you end up with an amateur foreign policy,” he told MSNBC news.