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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senate Questions Trump's Secretary of State Nominee; Tillerson: Climate Science "Is Not Conclusive". Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired January 11, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:30:03]

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: They have broad networks obviously putting in place.

And that's what we have got to disrupt. We have got to disrupt their ability to reach large numbers of people who could be persuaded. And that's what I have spoken to earlier with new tools to advance our ability to do that.

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), NEW JERSEY: Clearly, sharing intelligence with other Muslim majority nations, cooperating with them, creating those relationships that you said are so important, it's important to counter ISIL.

But if you're insulting and demeaning their very faith, not only does it make it probably difficult to deal with your allies, but it might even cite more radicalism, potentially, correct?

TILLERSON: My expectation is that we're going to be able to reengage with our traditional friends and allies in the region, not just in the Middle East. But I think, as you pointed out, there are large Muslim population in Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, other important countries in that part of the world where we have serious issues of common interest as well.

BOOKER: Again, there is much about our conversation privately that I appreciate and there's much about your testimony I appreciate as well.

But one thing we discussed was how important USAID is when we were together. I have real concerns, now having been out around the globe, seeing the powerful impact USAID is making for really asserting human dignity.

I really worry that its budget has been cut. The base international affairs budget, which includes funding to State and USAID, has been repeatedly cut about 30 percent, adjusted for inflation, since fiscal year 2010, despite the fact that across multiple bipartisan administrations, there's always been a broad agreement that supporting both USAID and the State Department is a moral, economic and strategic perspective.

I just want to just hope that you will be -- especially I have read a lot about the way you ran your business, streamlining and the like. But I hope that a priority for you is a more robust USAID program. Is that something I have -- could you give me reason to hope?

TILLERSON: I think -- I hope what you're after is more effective programs with better use of the taxpayers' dollars. And to the extent we are good at that and we have even greater opportunity, then we should seek additional funding.

But there will be a complete and comprehensive review of how effective we are with the dollars over there. USAID, as I said, is an important part of the projection of America's values around the world. We're going to have -- I think there is a joint strategic plan that is required between the State Department and USAID in fiscal year 2017.

That's going to be a perfect opportunity for me and those who will be working with me, if I'm confirmed, over at the State Department to take a comprehensive look at the effectiveness, and what our what are our ranges of opportunities out there that might argue for greater funding.

So, I want to be effective with the program and make sure that, as we are using the taxpayers' dollars, they're delivering a result that we're proud of.

BOOKER: And that's something I respect.

I was a mayor. Our chairman was a mayor. We know that spending more money on a problem doesn't necessarily mean that you're dealing with it more effectively. But if you have effective evidence-based programs, investing more resources is a strategic, as well as human rights advantage.

Sir, I'm a low man on the totem pole, and I am done with my time. I do want to say this to the chairman.

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: You had an extra minute this morning, so go ahead. You're high man on the totem pole now. You have the mic.

BOOKER: If only people told me this committee was so magnanimous as it is.

Sir, I'm just going to use my last few seconds. I'm not sure if we're going to have another round. We're not. My ranking member is not. So, I just want to just...

CORKER: Just by agreement with others, if I could, there's been, I think, a request to all members asking. I know there are some members that want to go another round. And we're going to make that available to them today.

BOOKER: I have expressed my thoughts to my ranking member, and I will wait for his instruction. But in the few seconds I have left, I just want you to know that this is probably one of the more important positions on the planet Earth, the one to which you are nominated for.

It's not just about always -- it is obviously always looking for America's interest and strategic advantage, but also it's about American values, values of human rights, values of taking care of poor and marginalized people.

And I expect that you at some point will be confirmed. And I look forward to working with you to asserting those values of human dignity, as well as American interests abroad.

So, thank you, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might, Mr. Chairman, before you call on the next witness, for my members, there are some additional questions that members have asked second rounds wanted to ask, and we're going to try to be able to give you the time.

But it is possible, if we all cooperate, we might be able to complete this hearing this evening and not go into tomorrow. So, that's what we're trying to do. Obviously, we have to complete it by 6:00, because we have business on the floor at 6:00.

[16:35:02]

CORKER: I saw the look of disappointment on Mr. Tillerson's face.

(LAUGHTER)

CORKER: As I understand it, Senator Rubio will have additional questions. Senator Menendez, Senator Shaheen has a little bit, little bit.

For those members who -- Senator Risch. So, we may be here tomorrow, but it looks like we're going to try to finish this evening, if everybody can cooperate. And, again, if that's not the case, as we all know, we're perfectly willing to come back tomorrow. We're really trying to accommodate...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I appreciate the chair. He's been very open about that and it's been very helpful.

But we also have some members that have not had their second rounds yet, remember.

CORKER: Yes.

And now to Senator Portman.

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And, again, Mr. Tillerson, thanks for your willingness to be patient and answer the questions, as you have, with candor, and appreciate your willingness to serve.

One thing we didn't talk about this morning in my questions was the Middle East. And I know you have had a lot of experience in the Middle East, particularly you have done business in many of the Arab countries. We talked about this a little in our meeting, but this relationship we

have with Israel is a special one, of course. It's a cornerstone of our strategy in the Middle East. They are our greatest ally in the Middle East, the one true democracy.

I want to talk to you a little about our views of Israel and the U.S.- Israel relationship. One important issue for me, as you know, is this issue of boycott, divestment, and sanction movement, the so-called BDS movement, which is a global movement targeting Israel.

I have been concerned about this for a while, introduced some legislation on it. In fact, Ben Cardin and I have not just introduced, but passed legislation in this regard to try to push back against the BDS forces.

Recently, of course, with the consent of the Obama administration, the U.N. Security Council passed this resolution condemning the settlements and demanding Israel cease all activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, is the way the resolution reads.

I think this will no doubt galvanize additional BDS activity. And, so, here's my question to you. Would you make it a priority to counter boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts against Israel, make sure Israel is not held to a double standard, but instead treated as a normal member of the international community?

TILLERSON: Yes, I would.

PORTMAN: Any preliminary thoughts as to how you would do that?

TILLERSON: Well, I think just by raising it in our interactions with countries that do put in place provisions that boycott whatever elements of activity or business with Israel in their country, that we begin by highlighting that we oppose that and just expressing that view, and that those countries need to understand that it does shade our view of them as well, then.

One of the things that would, I think, help change the dynamic obviously would be if there were a change in the dynamic regionally. Today, because of Iran and the threat that Iran poses, we now find that Israel, the U.S. and the Arab neighbors in the region all share the same enemy.

And this gives us an opportunity to find -- to discuss things that previously I think could not have been discussed.

PORTMAN: Do you find more support among the Sunni countries in the region for Israel as a result of that new dynamic?

TILLERSON: I don't want to speak to them, Senator, but I think clearly there is much more sharing going on between the leaders of those countries as they confront this singular threat to the whole region.

PORTMAN: That's my sense, and I think it's an opportunity. On BDS, we do have legislation that ties trade negotiations to dismantling BDS. Would you support that legislation? It's the law of the land.

And as we conduct trade negotiations, would you support using those negotiations to help dismantle the BDS efforts in those countries?

TILLERSON: From the standpoint of the State Department's view, if confirmed, I would advocate for that position as well, recognizing there's other agencies that would really have the purview over that.

PORTMAN: What attitude do you take toward the U.N. initiatives regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Is it your intention to press the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel, rather than seeking to negotiate through international bodies such as the U.N.? What's your position on that?

TILLERSON: I think, as I have expressed in answers to a couple other questions -- and I want to be brief because I realize we're trying to get through questions quicker.

This issue has to be settled between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And no one can be coerced into coming to the negotiating table. That will not lead to a solution. So, I support the parties being allowed to deal with this, speaking for themselves.

[16:40:05]

PORTMAN: With regard to Syria, complicated, obviously, in my view, it's been made worse by our inaction and specifically drawing red lines and not honoring them, but also not establishing safe zones and no-fly zones.

And, as you know, Russia's entry into Syria's civil war has helped turn the tide decisively. So, Iran was strongly backing Assad. And now you have Russia more involved. And this Assad-Iran-Hezbollah access has been strengthened.

And yet, as an indication of how complicated it is over there, an enemy of that axis of course would be ISIS. One of my questions for you is, would you under any circumstances advise any sort of cooperation with Iran where we might have a confluence of interests, namely in confronting ISIS?

TILLERSON: That is an area that requires exploration. I think earlier I indicated that that's where we have got to find a way to engage in the overall peace process or the cease-fire process that's been agreed by Russia, Turkey, Syria and with Iran's involvement as well.

Can we get engaged in that? Can we at least stabilize the situation regarding the rebel activity with the Syrian government and turn all our attention on ISIS? That remains to be seen, and that will involve, obviously, the engagement of others as well and input from others as well.

PORTMAN: Do you think Russia has an interest or desire in this counsel inflict to push back against ISIS, or do you think they are simply in Syria to help Assad's regime? TILLERSON: I think it has provided a convenient open door for Russia

to now establish a presence in the Middle East, a region that it has long been absent from.

Having said that, though, there are common threats that Russia faces because of terrorist organizations and radical Islam themselves. I have seen statistics that are significant. Significant fighters in ISIS are all speaking Russian as a language. That indicates Russia has got a problem as well in terms of where those people came from and where they may go back home to.

So, I think there's scope for discussion. This is what I alluded to earlier. We will have to see what Russia's posture is. And are they looking for a partnership with us where we can try to reestablish some type of a positive working relationship, or are they uninterested in that?

PORTMAN: Again, an incredibly complex situation in a difficult part of the world. But my sense is that Russia has not followed through on its statements with regard to pushing back on ISIS in Syria, and, in fact, have focused on simply protecting Assad's regime.

Again, thank you for your willingness to step forward into some of these complicated situations. We are looking forward to the opportunity to working together with you going forward, and I wish you the best of luck.

CORKER: Thank you.

Senator Merkley.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And I have 10 articles, I mentioned one or two earlier, that I would like to submit for the record related to Exxon's involvement regarding sanctions and Russia's activity in Ukraine.

CORKER: Without objection.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

I wanted to turn to climate, the environment. And, of course, you have received many, many questions today -- and we talked about this some in my office -- which I think is a reflection on how important it is.

As we look down a few generations from now, people will say, here was a major threat to the planet. What did you all do? And you noted earlier in your conversation with the chairman that our ability to correct the impacts of climate change are very limited.

But I believe that, when I met with you, you indicated that, but you also indicated that while we can't model with certainty, that shouldn't bother people too much the fact that we have a risk and challenge, we shouldn't let that go. And I think my view has always been it is a serious risk, and we need

to take steps to address it. Is that a fair recounting of how you view it?

TILLERSON: Yes, sir.

I think the fact -- I think what I said is the fact that we cannot predict with precision and certainly all of the models that we discussed that day, none of them agree, doesn't mean that we should do nothing.

MERKLEY: One of the things I have seen in my time here in the Senate is, we have gone from talking about models in the future to talking about what's happening on the ground right now.

In my state, the forests are burning at a much faster rate due to pine beetle expansion and the additional heat and dryness. And over on the coasts, the oysters are having trouble reproducing because the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than before we started burning fossil fuels.

In Senator Shaheen's state, the moose are dying because the ticks aren't killed off during the winter and they're transmitting disease. And along the coasts, with Senator Coon's state, there's -- I think the -- accurately, the lowest average land level in the country, and very concerned about the advancing sea level and storms, and experienced that in Hurricane Sandy.

And so every one of us in our states are seeing -- seeing effects on the ground. And, as we see that, we know we're just at the beginning of these impacts, that they're getting worse each year.

[16:45:03] But we are also viewing often climate change as a national security issue, and since you believe -- so, I wanted to ask, do you see it as a national security issue?

TILLERSON: I don't see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do.

MERKLEY: You know, one of the things that's noted is how the changing climate in the Middle East concentrated Syrian villages into the towns and sparked the civil war that has now produced something like 4 million and counting refugees, having profound impacts on European security, and that would be an example. Is that -- is that something you've looked at or considered to be real, or perhaps misleading, or any thoughts in that regard?

TILLERSON: The facts on the ground are indisputable in terms of what's a happening with drought, disease, insect populations, all the things you cite. Now, the science behind the clear connection is not -- is not conclusive. And there are many reports out there that we are unable yet to connect specific events to climate change alone.

MERKLEY: What we're seeing are a lot of scientific reports that will say, we can tell you the odds increased. We can't tell you any specific event was the direct consequence. For example, Hurricane Sandy might have occurred in a 100-year period, but the odds of it happening are higher with the higher sea level, a higher energy in the storms. So, do you agree with that viewpoint, that the -- that essentially the odds of dramatic events occurring, whether it's more forest fires or more hurricanes with more power is a rational observation from the scientific literature?

TILLERSON: I think as you indicated that there's some literature out there that suggests that. There's other literature that says it's inconclusive.

MERKLEY: One of the things we -- I'm sorry to hear that viewpoint, because it's overwhelmingly -- the scales are on one side of this argument, and I hope you'll continue to look at the scientific literature and take it seriously. One of the things that you mentioned was it was impressive that so many countries came together in Paris as a part of a global effort to take this on. And that was an important outcome, that there's a global conversation. I just want to make sure that I'm capturing correctly your impression of Paris.

TILLERSON: As I've stated before in my statements around climate change and responses to it, that it will require a global response in the countries that attempt to influence this by acting alone, are probably only harming themselves. So, the global approach was an important step, and I think also, as I indicated in response to a question earlier, I think it's important that the U.S. maintain a seat at that table, so that we can also judge the level of commitment of the other 189 or so countries that are around that table, and again, adjust our own course accordingly.

MERKLEY: Is this a case where, really, American leadership in the world matters? We rarely see big efforts to take on global problems unless America is driving the conversation. Do you think it's important for America to drive this conversation?

TILLERSON: Well, I think it's important for us to have a seat at the table. But I also think it's important that others need to step forward and decide whether this is important to them or not. If it only take -- if America is the only one that's willing to lead, then my conclusion is the rest of the world doesn't think it's very important.

MERKLEY: We saw on the sanctions on Iran, it was America that led and then we brought the rest of the world to the table. We also saw that leading up to Paris, China is committed to produce as much renewable power as our entire electricity production in the United States. And we've seen India now, talking about how to shift, providing electricity to 300 million people who don't have it, and doing it primarily, or shifting from primarily a coal strategy to primarily renewable energy strategy. So, we're seeing big countries with big populations that have far smaller carbon footprints than the United States stepping up, and shouldn't we step up as well?

TILLERSON: I think the United States has stepped up. And I -- as I indicated earlier, I think the United States has a record over the last 20 years of which it can be quite proud.

MERKLEY: Thank you. And it sounds like that means you think we should keep, not just being at a table, to be at a table you can be table silent, but a table on active, participant, and taking on this challenge?

TILLERSON: I think it's important that we are engage in that same conversation, as I said, so, we have a clear view of what others are doing and actions they're taking.

MERKLEY: Thank you. Am I out of time?

[16:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are, if you would like to take 30 seconds.

MERKLEY: Earlier -- thank you. I'll take those 30 seconds. Earlier, we've talked about the Exxon working with a subsidiary to bypass American sanctions and do business with Iran. And you said you didn't have knowledge of it, hadn't heard about it, have you participated in any Exxon meetings in which you strategized or individual strategized to find a legal path to do business with nations on which we had sanctions?

TILLERSON: No.

MERKLEY: Thank you.

CORKER: Thank you. Senator Risch?

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Thank you. Mr. Tillerson, several questions ago, in an answer, you stated -- and I was delighted to hear that, that you had reservations occasionally when the United States asked about what was going happen afterwards if a regime changed. Let me tell you that that's a refreshing view up here. I sit on this committee, of course, I set on the Intelligence Committee, we hear proposals all the time, and we hear of actions people want to take all the time, but they can't answer the question of, "OK, what's going to happen next?" And that is something I hope you will remain committed to while you're at this job, and when you're sitting at that table, and those decisions are being made. I hope you'll insist that the people tell you what's going to happen next because we have -- we have been very, very short on strategy after being able to topple a regime. We're, you know, if we want to do it, we can do it. We've got the power to do it. But then what comes next?

And everyone for a long time around here, I heard, well, you know, we're going to do nation building and everything is going to be wonderful, it's going to be a new America, when we're done with them. Well, you know, the nation building was a - was a great strategy in the World War II area -- era, and it worked. That strategy isn't working any more. We have been notoriously unsuccessful in attempting -- in attempting to do nation building, and part of it is because there's a lot of reasons for it. But obviously, one of them is that we're operating in countries where the culture is so much different than ours, very different from the - from the landscape in World War II and after World War II. So, I -- again, I want to -- I want to encourage you to take that question to the table, every time, say, "OK, guys. I see what you've got planned. I think it's going to work. What happens next?" Because that is an incredibly important decision when we decide what we're going to do.

Let me shift gears here for a minute. I want to talk about the Iran situation. As you know, there are a lot of us up here that were very much opposed to the deal that was cut by the current administration with Iran. There's a lot of us up here that believe, we're not done yet. This thing has set us -- set Iran on a path towards having the nuclear weapon. Now, it's going to be some time, I couldn't agree more, that it's going to be a further down the road as a result of the deal. But it gives them, in my judgment, a legal path forward if they continue to do all the things that they're required to do in the - in the agreement, and take it step by step and year by year, and then the agreement expires, and they're going to say, "OK, we're done. We did everything we said we're going to do. Now, we're going to build a bomb."

And if people object, they're going to say, "Wait a second. You know, we negotiated in good faith. We did everything we said we were going to do." Why -- you know, so, that's not over. But what's more concerning is the more instant question, and that is a lot of us at this table, particularly on this side of the table, urged the administration in very clear terms, both in open hearings and in closed hearings, to push the Iranians to behave themselves, to change their conduct. Not just -- not just -- not quit fiddling with enrichment and what have you, these people are the primary sponsor of -- the greatest sponsor of terrorist activity in the world.

When they were talking about giving them, however, many billion dollars it was on pallets, we said, "Look, these people have been financing terrorist activities when they were broke. What do you think is going to happen when we make them rich?" And they said, "Well, you know, we don't want to do that because it will interfere with what we're talking about on the nuclear deal." And to me, it wasn't worth the deal at all, when they limited it just to that.

When it comes to the U.N. sanctions or the U.N. resolutions that have been passed, that said, you got to behave yourself, or that you can't launch missiles anymore. I mean, one week after the thing went into effect, they were launching missiles. There's a lot of us here that want to re-impose sanctions, in fact, ratchet sanctions up for their activities on terrorism, for their failure to obey the U.N. sanctions on missile activity.

[16:55:09] And the Iranians are saying, "No, you know, you can't -- you can't do putting more sanctions on us." In fact, some people up here are arguing that that's not the case. We believe that that -- look, the administration themselves said that it didn't cover those activity -- the agreement didn't cover those activities, it was limited to nuclear. Do you have a view on that? Because I think you're going to be dealing with that sooner rather than later. There's a lot of us who feel very strongly about that, and if we're going to change these people's attitude about joining the world stage with the rest of civilized society, we're going to have to curtail their activities, not just in the nuclear area, but in these other things that are -- that are just despicable acts that they committed. Have you got some views on that? TILLERSON: I think I may have commented earlier that one of the unfortunate effects of all the attention placed on the Iran nuclear agreement, I think I've heard, at least I've heard this expressed by others, that resulted in a bit of a down focus on the real immediate threat today and that's Iran's continued sponsorship of terrorism and terrorist organizations there in the region, most particularly support for Hezbollah and Hamas. So, I think we do have to keep what's important in front of us and what's imminent in front of us.

As to the nuclear agreement itself, I do look forward of confirm to taking a comprehensive look at that, along with the side agreements, to see what are all the elements available to us, to enforce, stay informed on their activities, and are they complying with all the inspection requirements, and confirming that they're meeting the agreement. But back to your point of what happens next in the case of taking certain regimes out, the same thing is true here with this agreement -- it's what happens at the end of this agreement, is really the important question we've got to be asking ourselves, because the objective has not changed. Iran cannot have a nuclear agreement. What happens at the end, as you point out, is they go right back to where they were, and we've not achieved our objective.

So, my intention is to use the elements of this agreement that may be helpful to us in addressing the what comes next when this agreement is over, or what replaces it, which has to be we have once and for all blocked Iran's path to a nuclear weapon, because they've agreed that they are no longer going to pursue one because they have no reason to, because we changed behaviors, or because we have mechanisms in place that are going to prevent them from pursuing that. That is -- that will be a difficult negotiation because it is in the context of their continued sponsorship of terrorism around the world. And we can't -- we can't just work this and turn a blind eye to that. And it is a complicated discussion, but I think we do have to take that approach with them. That we're not going to do a one-off deal with you, knock all of these stuff over here is not happening. It has to be looked at in full view, and we just have to be honest and acknowledge it.

RISCH: And that's exactly what happened. I'm encouraged to hear you say that. Let me -- let me warn you about one thing. When I sit on this committee, I sit on the Intelligence Committee, and I have not seen the side agreements, nor has every -- any member of the United States Congress seen the side agreements. I've traveled to the U.N. operations in Vienna and met with the IAEA. They will not let you see those side agreements. So, these people we're voting for -- the people who voted for that Iran agreement did so, on an agreement that, part of which we weren't able to see. So, I wish you well. I've -- we've had one witness who said she was in the room where they have the side agreements and they were passing them around and she touched them as they went by, but did not read them. So, she wasn't able to tell us, either, what was in the side agreements. I wish you well. If you get your hands on the side agreements, give me a call, would you, because I'd like to join you and have a look at them. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

CORKER: No, thank you. Senator (INAUDIBLE). UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. Tillerson, for your fortitude and patience. It bodes well for what I think are the rigors and demands of services as Secretary of State. Senator Risch has taken us on a guiding tour of the JCPOA. I just thought I would start by going back to an important point that you referenced in passing. I believe, earlier today, you said one of the - one of the failings of the deal is it does not deny Iran the ability to purchase a nuclear weapon, and my very diligent staff has reminded me that the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty does prohibit the purchase of a nuclear weapon. But more importantly, the JCPOA, which I have in provision three of the general provisions at the very front, says, "Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons." My general approach to this agreement has been distrust and verify. I couldn't agree with you more that Iran's --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: I'm CNN's Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're watching the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.