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Live Coverage of Rex Tillereson's Confirmation Hearing. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired January 11, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: OK. I will, just as a matter of sharing some information, the supplying of defense, lethal defensive support to Ukraine at a time when we were only sending used night vision goggles and MREs, was something that was strongly supported in a bipartisan way
[14:00:00] I just want to say that for the record.
And so I didn't view the response to be necessarily in any way outside the norms of what this committee overwhelmingly supported at that time. I'm just saying that for information and I'm more than glad to talk more fully about that.
So we're going to start the second round. They're going to be seven- minute rounds. And we're going to go in the same order that we began. If Senator Risch comes in, I would like to be able to give him time since he was around earlier and now has a conflict. And with that, I'll turn to Senator Cardin again.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: Well, once again, thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, Mr. Chairman, in response to Senator Menendez's questions about lobbying in regards to the Iran Sanctions Act, just to make the record complete, I'm going to ask consent to put into the record the lobbying disclosure form from ExxonMobil Corporation that indicates that approximately $3.4 million was spent in lobbying on behalf of the Iran Sanctions Act.
Put that into the record, Mr. Chairman?
I wanted to be chairman.
CORKER: I understand you became chairman while I was talking.
But... CARDIN: You've got to watch it. You've always got to watch out.
CORKER: Without objection.
CARDIN: Thank you.
The second thing, Mr. Tillerson, I want to just underscore a point. We talked about it in the office. This has come up several times. And that is you keep referring to the fact of your concern in regards to the Ukrainian sanctions that were imposed against Russia for their actions in Ukraine, that you were concerned that American companies could be at a disadvantage because of Europe being treated differently; the grandfather's clause, et cetera.
And then we talk about leadership, and it was very true on Iran. And Senator Menendez took the leadership on this, that but for the U.S. leadership, we wouldn't have gotten other countries to act. So if we take the position we're going to the lowest common denominator, we're not going to get anything really done. And you talked about being tough and taking tough positions. It requires leadership and requires us to be willing to go the extra amount.
And one last point on this, and I agree with Senator Corker. We've never had any administration believe that Congress just take away their discretion. That is absolutely fact. Whether it's a Democrat or Republican administration, they'd just assume do away with Congress. We understand that. We get it.
But you, I assume, understand the advantage we have in America with the separation of branches of government. And it could be helpful to you as our -- if you're confirmed as our principal negotiator, to have clear directions from Congress that you must impose sanctions, must impose sanctions unless you get real progress towards the issues on which those sanctions will be imposed.
Take advantage of the independent branch of government. Work with us so you can have those strong tools to help America's interests.
I want to take most of my time on this round to go over an issue that Senator Corker and I have been working through. And I'm not going to spend a lot of time going over some of the issues on tax returns. And we'll save that for a different time for our committee, because it really involves an internal debate here more so than -- than our nominee.
But as a result, I had sent to you 20 questions to answer that are related to the tax issues, because we didn't have the tax returns. And I'm -- before the close of business for asking questions, I will be proposing questions to you related to your tax issues in order to better understand areas that I think we need to have information on.
We are concerned about the fact -- I'm concerned. I think members of the committee are concerned that you will have some private interests. You're going to continue to operate a farm. You're going to have a charitable foundation. You have a real estate firm -- a real estate partnership. We need to know a little bit more how that operates from the person who is going to be secretary of state. You have trusts that are being set up and how those payments are paid out over time. We need to have better understanding how that operates during the -- your term if you're confirmed as secretary of state. So that type of information is useful to us.
I'm still trying to figure out exactly how this trust that you're taking restricted stock and, if confirmed, selling it to become -- or putting cash in rather than the restricted stock. But then you are able to withdraw the funds from the trust in the same schedule as I believe as the restricted stock would have become actionable.
But as a result of that, you're also putting contingencies on your receipt, so you can defer the taxes, at least as I understand, defer taxes for a significant period of time. These are issues that I think we have to have more transparency on because they're big dollars -- $180 million of (inaudible) restricted stock; the tax consequences are about $70 million. And these are not types of tools that can be used by average Americans. So I think we need to know more about those types of issues.
We also have concern about making sure that all of your employees have been properly documented and taxes paid. That's a standard issue that's been raised now in confirmation hearings. And Senator Corker and I may not think it's relevant to the final confirmations -- I shouldn't say relevant -- determinative to a final confirmation, but it's certainly relevant for us to have that information before we make those answers.
So Mr. Tillerson, I'm going to ask you to answer these questions for the record. I hope we'll be able to get the cooperation in a timely way so that the committee can have this information before we're called upon to act on your nomination.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE NOMINEE: I'm happy to try to answer the areas of concern you have. And I indicated that in the original questionnaire that it's my objective to address concerns you have. You know, I am -- I'm also, though, mindful of privacy issues that are afforded to every American and the privacy issues that are afforded under individual's tax returns. So, I'll do my best to answer the questions that you have, but I hope you'll also respect the privacy of myself and my family and the longstanding tradition of the privacy of individual's tax returns.
CARDIN: And I can assure you that that will absolutely be observed. As I have explained to Senator Corker, much of this information is not even reviewed by members. It's strictly by people who can tell us whether we have a problem or not. So I absolutely respect what you're saying, and my full intentions are to fully maintain your legitimate rights of privacy.
I look forward to following up on that, and I thank you for your reply.
CORKER: Thank you.
Just for the edification of the committee, I think that it's true that over the last four years, I have worked as the lead Republican on Foreign Relations to ensure that we move candidates out as quickly as possible -- nominees. I think at every nominations meeting we've had, that's been stated.
And what I've shared with the ranking member is we have a tradition here that we are following. This has not been a committee that has asked for tax returns, has asked for a disclosure form. And just because we were so overwhelmingly helpful with the Democratic president's nominees, doesn't mean that we want to be changing the standards or unhelpful, if you will, under a Republican nominee. So I just have tried to keep things exactly the same -- exactly the same. Disclosures are exactly the same.
And, you know, as far as getting into -- I've told Senator Cardin that if there is a substantial issue that we need to look at that would affect Senator Tillerson's -- excuse me -- you don't want to be demoted to that.
The nominee Tillerson's role, then I'm more than glad to look much deeper into it. And if we need to have somebody from the outside do so. But to get into silly "gotcha" questions, not that you've done that, that's just not what we've done in this committee. And I hope we will not turn this process into one that turns qualified people away from wanting to serve.
So again, if there's some substantive issue that we need to pursue and we need to get into some private setting and have someone come in from an accounting firm that really matters as it relates to his ability to not have conflicts as a secretary of state or something like that, I'm willing to look at it, as I know he is.
Asking questions that, you know, are not in any way determinative in that manner (ph) is belittling the committee and certainly a huge change in the protocol and the respect with which we've dealt with nominees and their privacy in the past.
CARDIN: Could I just say something?
CORKER: But I thank you for working with me (inaudible).
CARDIN: Could you just yield for one moment I - and I thank you for that. And I can assure you, the disagreement on supplying tax returns has nothing to do with Mr. Tillerson.
It is a discussion we are having and it has not at all delayed any of our operations and I fully expect that I will continue to use whatever means I can to change our committee practices so that we do have our nominees, as many other committees in the Senate require, to file tax returns. That's not unique, Small Business, I've been told by Senator Shaheen requires -
CORKER: Yes, and -
CARDIN: But the second point I would just make very quickly is that - the second point, the ability of members to ask questions for the record and ask questions of the nominee is pretty well been respected and I would hope that that right would not be diminished.
That we have the ability to ask questions through the witnesses in regard to areas that we think are important.
CORKER: No one in any way is trying to diminish that. I know that you and I have agreed on a series of questions that will come from the committee itself and Mr. Tillerson, as I understand it, is going to answer those.
I would think that, absolutely, the arrangement that he has with Exxon is something that should be fully vetted and everyone here understand that that is going to happen and he's going to make that all forth - and has actually.
I would just say, again, we may wish to change our standards for four years from now. Our most recent Secretary of State, as I understand it, as a couple, was worth over a billion dollars. Had all kinds of far ranging investments and as a committee we never tried to force a tax return issue.
They filled out the disclosures and we as a committee ask them questions. Same thing happened with Secretary Clinton so, all I'm trying to do is not, in any way, change the way that we operate because of the outcome of an election and continue to be, again, that island of bi-partisanship where we continue to operate regardless of who wins an election, in the same manner.
I'm in no way trying to infer that you're attempting to do that. I'm just telling you what I'm attempting to do. And with that, if we can close this matter out I'll turn to Senator Rubio.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Thank you. Mr. Tillerson when we met on Monday night, and thank you for coming by, I provided you a copy of a bill that was filed in the last congress which I anticipate has or will be filed again in this new congress here in the senate by my colleague Senator Flake and Senator Leahy.
And what it would do is it would remove the travel ban to Cuba by Americans. If you are confirmed, and that bill were to pass the congress, would you advise - can you commit that you would advise the president to veto that bill.
TILLERSON: Senator as to the current status of travel to Cuba that is going to be under discussion with the president elect. I think he has been fairly clear on his intent that he is going to ask all agencies, essentially on day one, to do a complete review of recent executive orders and the change in the status of travel to Cuba as well as business activities in Cuba. So that would be - it would be my expectation that the president would not immediately approve that bill until after that review had occurred, because that would be part of a broader view of our posture towards Cuba.
RUBIO: Well, again, if he doesn't do - act on the bill it would become law without his signature. So my question is, at this time you cannot commit to supporting a veto of that bill should it pass?
TILLERSON: Well I would support a veto because I don't think we want to change the current status of things until we've completed that review.
RUBIO: Okay. That was the question I wanted to get to.
Let me ask you this, if a bill were to pass congress that would remove the U.S. Embargo against Cuba and there hasn't been democratic changes on the island of Cuba, would you advise the president to veto a bill that lifted the embargo on Cuba?
TILLERSON: If confirmed, yes I would.
RUBIO: And can you also commit that you would advise the president to reverse many, if not all, of the Obama Administration's Cuba regulations and executive orders regarding Cuba, that were recently submitted in 2014?
TILLERSON: As indicated, I expect a comprehensive review of all those executive orders. And from the State Department perspective, I would want to examine carefully the criteria under which Cuba was de-listed from the list of terrorist -- nations that support terrorism, and whether or not that de-listing was appropriate, and whether or not the circumstances which led to that de-listing still exist.
RUBIO: You do not currently have an opinion at this time as to whether Cuba belongs on the list of terror sponsors?
TILLERSON: Well, I would need to examine all the criteria that were used to make the current determination, and then utilizing the expertise of those in the State Department, again informed by the interagency process to look at those criteria that would put Cuba back on that list.
RUBIO: As I'm sure you're aware, there is a dispute between China and Japan over control of the Senkaku Island chain. If China attempted to take over the island chain through the use of military force, would you support the United States responding with military force to prevent that from happening?
TILLERSON: Well, we have longstanding ally commitments with Japan and South Korea in the area. And I think we would respond in accordance with those accords, which are not a NATO-type agreement. But certainly, we have made commitments to Japan in terms of a guarantee of their defense.
RUBIO: I want to, because in your opening remarks, you referred to human rights, and I'm glad that you did. And I wanted to walk you through a few examples quickly. I shared with you when we met on Monday, a political prisoner database maintained by the Congressional Executive Commission on China, contains more than 1,400 active records of individuals known or believed to be in detention.
Do you believe China is one of the world's worst human rights violators?
TILLERSON: China has serious human rights violations. Relative to categorizing it against other nations, I would have to have more information, but they certainly have serious human rights violations.
RUBIO: OK. Well, since President Rodrigo Duterte took office last June, the Los Angeles Times reports that roughly over -- over 6,200 people have been killed in the Philippines by police and vigilantes in alleged drug raids. In your view, is this the right way to conduct an anti-drug campaign?
TILLERSON: Senator, the U.S. -- America and the people of the Philippines have a longstanding friendship. I think it's important that we keep that in perspective in engaging with the government of the Philippines, that that longstanding friendship -- and they have been an ally and we need to ensure that they stay an ally.
RUBIO: That's correct, Mr. Tillerson. But my question is about the 6,200 people that have been killed in these alleged drug raids. Do you believe that that is an appropriate way to conduct that operation? Or do you believe that it is something that's conducive to human rights violations that we should be concerned about and condemning?
TILLERSON: Senator, if confirmed, again, it's an area that I'd want to understand in greater detail in terms of the facts on the ground. I'm not disputing anything you're saying because I know you have access to information that I do not have.
RUBIO: This is from the Los Angeles Times.
TILLERSON: Well, again, I'm not going to rely on solely what I read in the newspapers. I will go to the facts on the ground. I'm sure there's -- I'm sure there's good credible information available through our various government agencies.
RUBIO: Well, one of the sources for that number on the campaign, and its nature, is President Duterte himself, who openly brags about the people that are being shot and killed on the streets, who he has determined are drug dealers without any trial. So, if in fact he continues to brag about it, would that be reliable information that you would look at and say, OK, it's happening?
I mean, what's happening in the Philippines is not an intelligence issue. It is openly reported in multiple press accounts. The president-elect has spoken about it. And quite frankly, the president of the Philippines has admitted to it; in fact, brags about it.
So I guess my question is: Is that, in your opinion, an appropriate way for him to act and should it influence our relationship with the Philippines?
TILLERSON: If the facts -- if the facts are in fact supportive of those numbers and those actions, then I don't think any of us would accept that as a proper way to deal with offenders, no matter how egregious the offenders may be.
RUBIO: I'm sure you're also aware of the -- the lack of both religious freedoms and the rights -- lack of rights of women in Saudi Arabia. In your opinion, is Saudi Arabia a human rights violator?
TILLERSON: Saudi Arabia certainly does not share the same values of America. However, American interests have been advocating in Saudi Arabia for some time. And I think the question is what is the pace of progress that should be expected for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to advance -- advance rights to women and others in the country.
RUBIO: And as it currently stands, do you consider what they're doing to be human rights violations?
TILLERSON: I would need to have greater information, Senator, in order to make a true determination of that.
RUBIO: You're not familiar with the state of affairs for people in Saudi Arabia? What life is like for women? They can't drive. They have people jailed and lashed. You are familiar with all of that?
TILLERSON: Yes, Senator, I'm familiar with all of that. And...
RUBIO: So what more information would you need?
TILLERSON: In terms of when you designate someone or label someone, the question is: Is that the most effective way to have progress continue to be made in Saudi Arabia or any other country. So my interest is the same as yours. Our interests are not different, Senator, and there seems to be some misunderstanding that somehow I see the world through a different lens. And I do not. I share all the same values that you share, and want the same things for people the world over in terms of freedoms.
But I'm also clear-eyed and realistic about dealing in cultures. These are -- these are centuries-long cultures -- cultural differences. It doesn't mean that we can't affect them and affect them to change. And in fact, over the many, many years that I've been traveling to the Kingdom, while the pace has been slow -- slower than any of us wish -- there is a change underway in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
How and if they ever arrive to the same value system we have, I can't predict that. But what I do believe is it is moving in the direction that want it to move. And what I wouldn't want to do is to take some kind of a precipitous action that suddenly causes the leadership in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to have to interrupt that. I'd like for them to continue to make that progress.
CORKER: Thank you.
Senator Menendez? SEN. BOB MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Tillerson, I know that you're new to this, and I know that the chairman was trying to help you out on the question of lobbying on sanctions. You stated on the record that to your knowledge, neither you nor Exxon ever lobbied against sanctions; that you were merely seeking information.
I have four different lobbying reports totaling millions of dollars, as required by the Lobbying Disclosure Act, that lists ExxonMobil's lobbying activities on four specific pieces of legislation authorizing sanctions, including the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions Accountability and Divestment Act of 2010, the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014, and the Stand for Ukraine Act.
Now, I know you're new to this, but it's pretty clear. My understanding is that when you employ lobbyists, who submit lobbying forms under the law, you are taking a position. Is that not correct?
TILLERSON: If the form clearly indicates whether we were -- I don't know -- I haven't seen the form you're holding in your hand, so I don't know whether it indicates were we lobbying for the sanctions or were we lobbying against the sanctions.
MENENDEZ: I know you weren't lobbying for the sanctions, but...
TILLERSON: Well, if the form there...
MENENDEZ: It says specifically, for example, here, specific lobbying issues: Russian Aggression Prevention of 2014, provisions related to energy. You weren't lobbying for sanctions on energy, were you?
TILLERSON: I think that's a description of the subject that was discussed. And I haven't seen the form, Senator, so I don't want to be presumptuous here.
MENENDEZ: Well, you don't -- let me just edify you for the future. You don't need a lobbying disclosure form to simply seek information and clarification about a bill. That's not lobbying. Lobbying specifically is to promote a view, a position and what not.
So, that's -- I'd ask unanimous consent to have these included in the record.
CORKER: Without objection.
MENENDEZ: So there was lobbying here. And I know that Senator Booker asked you about USA Engage you said you don't know about. But ExxonMobil is listed on USA Engage, whose whole purpose, and I'm sure that while Exxon is a huge corporation, like the State Department is a very big entity, that you may not every minutiae of what's going on, but you have to generally understand that you're giving direction as to whether or not you want to be lobbying on certain issues or not; you want to be taking positions on certain issues or not. And so just like you told me earlier that in your conversation with the president-elect, you didn't discuss Russia. It's a little difficult to think you actually don't know that Exxon was lobbying on these issues of sanctions.
TILLERSON: My understanding is those reports are required whether you're lobbying for something or you're lobbying against something. You're still required to report that you have lobbying activity.
MENENDEZ: So you believe you were paying monies to lobby for sanctions?
TILLERSON: I don't know. All I know, Senator, is I don't recall...
MENENDEZ: Could you imagine being in a position in which you would have your company and its shareholders pay money to lobby for sanctions that would affect your bottom line?
TILLERSON: I don't know, Senator. It would depend on the circumstance.
MENENDEZ: OK. All right. Let me -- let me turn to Mexico, a little different part of the world than we've been discussing. Some of us care about the Western Hemisphere.
Last week, the president-elect tweeted that any money spent on building the great wall will be paid by Mexico. Mr. Tillerson, building a wall on the southern border and having Mexico pay for it has been a hallmark chant at Trump rallies.
Now, the president-elect says the American people will pay for it, and then that the Mexicans will reimburse us. I also want to point out the last time a country tried to wall itself completely from its neighbor was in Berlin in 1961 and that wall was constructed by communist East Germany.
Former Mexican president last week tweeted and it seems that's how we conducting foreign policy, by tweets these days, that "Trump may ask whoever he wants but still neither myself nor Mexico are going to pay for his racist monument, another promise he can't keep," closed quotes. As you're well aware, the president-elect has repeatedly referred to Mexican citizens who have come to the United States as saying they are sending quote "people that have lots of problems and they are bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime, they're rapists and in some, some I assume are good people." So Mr. Tillerson, do you think Mexicans are criminals, drug dealers and rapists.
TILLERSON: I would never characterize an entire population with any single term at all.
MENENDEZ: Do you think that those comments help our relationship with Mexico, our third largest trading partner, a trading partner that represents $583 billion in trades of goods and services including second largest goods export market?
TILLERSON: Mexico is a long standing neighbor and friend of this country.
MENENDEZ: And so that doesn't help your jobs as the secretary of state, does it? If you are to achieve nomination?
TILLERSON: Well we are going to engage with Mexico because of their importance to us in this - in this hemisphere and we have many, many common issues, common areas of concern.
MENENDEZ: Let me turn to another part of the western hemisphere. Senator Rubio referred to it, so he took care of the some things I cared about. When you and I met, you indicated to me on Cuba that you needed more time, which is fair, to come to a conclusion about your option on U.S.-Cuban policy and the Obama administration changes.
I want to share with you the latest report by, not me, OK? By amnesty international that noted, quote, "Despite increasingly open diplomatic relations, severe restrictions of freedom of expression and movement continuing, thousands of cases of harassment of government critics and arbitrary arrest and detention were reported." Thousands, that's their quote. The Cuban commission for human rights and national reconciliation which works within Cuba, documented more than 8,600 politically motivated detentions of government opponents and activists during the year.
There's a group of women who march every Sunday to church with gladiolus'. They're called the women in white. They get beaten savagely simply because of their peaceful protests. Now, I would hope would you agree with me that if our engagement is still going to allow that to take place, then something is wrong with our engagement. Something fell short. And I have a specific question on Cuba. Do you think that as a condition of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, at a minimum, should have insisted on the return of fugitives, cop killers, like New Jersey cop killer JoAnne Chesimard and others American fugitives of justice being harbored by the Castro regime.
TILLERSON: I do, senator.
MENENDEZ: Thank you, very much. Now would you finally commit yourself, if you are confirmed as secretary of state, to work with us and others, Mexico and others, have cop-killers and other fugitives that are in Cuba to make that conditioning of any future transactions as it relates it Cuba?
TILLERSON: Senator if confirmed, I look forward to working with you most specifically as well as Senator Rubio and others that I know have a great depth of knowledge on Cuba, to ensure that we are not relaxing the pressure on Cuba to reform its oppressive regime and certainly as I indicated and the response to a question earlier and in my opening remarks, Cuban leadership got a lot out of most recent deal. We need to make no mistake about where the flow of funds is going inside of Cuba. And Cuban people got almost nothing. And as I indicated, the president-elect I think has been very clear on his intent to direct bottoms up review of the entire relationship with Cuba.
MENENDEZ: Thank you. CORKER: I appreciate the great senator from New Jersey acknowledging that when our nominee has left an impression that I don't think he is wishing to leave that give him an opportunity to change that. Thank you. And he with that, Senator Risch...
SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), IDAHO: Mr. Chairman, thank you.
CORKER: Senator Risch has got a 10-minute segment because he missed first round. Thank you for being here.
RISCH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I won't take that full 10 minutes.
Mr. Tillerson, thank you for your willingness to do this.
You're going to be hitting the ground at a very difficult time as far as U.S. relationships around the world.