Trump’s secretary of state pick headed for Senate approval

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Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2YJ34

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, smiles during his testimony before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, U.S. January 11, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is headed toward Senate confirmation after several Democrats crossed party lines to back the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

The vote on Tillerson, scheduled for Wednesday, comes as tension builds among congressional Republicans and Democrats over Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the order would be a litmus test for Trump’s remaining Cabinet choices, and that any who refuse to reject the “horrible” new policy should be opposed.

But Democrats lack the numbers in the Senate to block Tillerson from becoming the nation’s chief diplomat. Republicans hold a four-seat advantage and during a procedural vote Monday on the nomination, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia cast their ballots for Tillerson. They’re unlikely to change their minds.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also supported Tillerson. The nomination needs only a simple majority to be confirmed.

Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was sure whether Tillerson would steer Trump toward a coherent foreign policy or whether he might be a “yes man, enabling the risky, chaotic whims of a demagogue president who is leading us on a march of folly.”

The opening days of the Trump administration have seen little of the honeymoon period new presidents usually experience. The chief battleground has been Trump’s executive order temporarily blocking refugees worldwide and anyone from seven Muslim-majority nations.

With liberal groups pressing them to fight Trump, Democrats used delaying tactics on Trump nominees on Tuesday. It’s one of their limited weapons as the congressional minority to hamper the GOP.

Several other votes were planned Wednesday to get Trump nominees approved by committees, clearing them for confirmation in the full Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee intended to vote on Trump’s nomination of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general. Democrats scuttled a planned vote Tuesday in the wake of Trump’s decision to fire Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Several Democrats said they had no confidence Sessions would be able to stand up to Trump.

Republicans said they would try anew to push two Trump nominees through the Senate Finance Committee, a day after Democrats said both men had lied to Congress about their financial background and blocked those votes.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is Trump’s pick for health secretary, a post that would place him at the lead of Republican efforts to erase former President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. Democrats cited a newspaper report that officials of an Australian biomed company said Price received a special offer to buy their stock at reduced prices, despite Price’s congressional testimony that the offer was available to all investors.

Democrats said a bank run by wealthy financier Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s designee for treasury secretary, used a process for handling home foreclosures that critics have associated with fraud.

Both men and congressional Republicans said they’d done nothing wrong.

A vote also was planned in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma’s state attorney general in line to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

In his current position, Pruitt has frequently sued the agency he hopes to lead, including a multistate lawsuit opposing the Obama administration’s plan to limit planet-warming carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Like Trump, Pruitt has cast doubt on the extensive body of scientific evidence showing that the planet is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame. Pressed by Democrats in his Senate confirmation hearing in January, however, Pruitt said he disagreed with Trump’s earlier claims that global warming is a hoax created by the Chinese to harm the economic competitiveness of the United States.

“I do not believe climate change is a hoax,” Pruitt said.

Trump’s pick to head the White House Budget Office, tea party Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., faced a vote by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a critic of Mulvaney’s previous stands on Pentagon spending, has yet to commit his support.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Michael Biesecker contributed to this report.

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