Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for secretary of state spot underway

Posted at 1:18 PM, Jan 11, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on activities in Congress (all times EST):

6:20 p.m.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for energy secretary, says he has stepped down from the boards of two energy companies that are developing the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline project.

Perry said in a letter to ethics officials that he stepped down Dec. 31 from the boards of directors of Energy Transfer Partners LP and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP. The companies are developing the proposed 1,200-mile crude oil pipeline that has stoked mass protests in North Dakota.

Perry said he still owns stock in the companies but will divest the stock within three months of his confirmation. He says he will not take part in any decisions involving the two companies for at least two years.


6 p.m.

Sen. Marco Rubio is frustrated with how Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state handled his confirmation hearing.

Rubio says Rex Tillerson didn't seize the opportunity to forcefully rebuke countries failing to respect human rights.

Rubio is lecturing the former Exxon Mobil CEO on the importance of being the nation's top diplomat and the need to stand up for people around the world.

Rubio says, "They look to the United States."

The Florida Republican says he is discouraged Tillerson didn't declare Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal or call Saudi Arabia and the Philippines human rights violators.

Rubio's opinion could prove pivotal when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes on Tillerson's nomination. The panel is comprised of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.


5:55 p.m.

A Missouri congressman tells House Speaker Paul Ryan he's concerned the speaker will follow up on "vigilante censorship" in the House by removing a painting that's at the center of a dispute about its appropriateness to be displayed on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay says in a letter to Ryan that removal of the painting, after hanging six months without controversy, "would be a naked and unprecedented act of censorship and thought control" that would lead to litigation.

The painting won a student arts competition in Clay's district and depicts a scene involving police officers pointing their guns at an African-American man. One of the officers resembles a pig, with an elongated face and tusks. Some GOP lawmakers and police groups say it's offensive.


4:30 p.m.

Rex Tillerson says he doesn't agree with President-elect Donald Trump's suggestion that the world would be "better off" if countries like Japan and South Korea had nuclear capabilities.

Trump's choice for secretary of state is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he doesn't believe "anyone advocates for more nuclear weapons on the planet."

Sen. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, pressed Tillerson to respond to Trump's musings during the presidential campaign about America's allies in the Pacific having the means to defend themselves from the growing nuclear threat in North Korea.

"Do you agree with that or disagree with that?" Markey asked.

"I do not agree," Tillerson responded.


3:55 p.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state likens China's island building in the disputed South China Sea to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

He says it has to stop.

Rex Tillerson says in his confirmation hearing that China's actions are "extremely worrisome" and the U.S. failure to respond "has allowed them to keep pushing the envelope."

He says the U.S. must make clear to China that access to the islands won't be allowed.

His remarks are sure to anger China, which claims sovereignty over much of the South China Sea.

Over objections by the U.S. and rival claimants, China has reclaimed thousands of acres of land and constructed military-grade infrastructure, and reportedly installed weaponry.


3:30 p.m.

Rex Tillerson says Islam is a "great faith" and he doesn't support the "blanket rejection" of people from the United States because of their religion.

President-elect Donald Trump said during the presidential campaign that if elected, he would implement a total ban on Muslims entering the United States. Trump has since proposed "extreme vetting."

Tillerson, Trump's choice for secretary of state, is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the U.S. has to be "very clear-eyed" about the threat posed by the Islamic State and other extremist groups.


2:18 p.m.

Rex Tillerson is telling senators he would work closely with Congress on any new Russia sanctions.

Trump's choice for secretary of state says he would cooperate "on the construct of new sanctions" after Moscow's alleged interference in the presidential election and aggression in other parts of the world.

Tillerson also says the Trump administration will be committed to seeking support from Congress for major military actions.

He says Trump believes "it is important that we not just lightly go into these conflicts" and would "seek the engagement and support" of Congress, either through a resolution or legislation to authorize the use of force.

Tillerson says: "It's much more powerful when the U.S. shows up with everyone aligned."


2:00 p.m.

The Republican-led Senate is poised to take a step toward dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law despite anxiety among some GOP senators that their party still hasn't come up with an alternative.

A procedural budget vote slated for late Wednesday or early Thursday would trigger committee action to write repeal legislation that could come to a vote next month. A full replacement would follow sometime after that if Republicans can come up with one.

The nearly seven-year-old law extended health insurance to some 20 million Americans, prevented insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and steered millions to the states for the Medicaid health program for the poor.


1:39 p.m.

Democrat Cory Booker says his Senate colleague Jeff Sessions has at times exhibited hostility toward civil rights.

Booker is taking the highly unusual step of testifying against President-elect Donald Trump's pick for attorney general on the second day of Sessions' confirmation hearings.

The New Jersey senator said an attorney general "must bring hope and healing to the country and this demands a more courageous effort that Sen. Sessions demonstrates."

Booker added the Alabama Republican's opposition to reform of the criminal justice system, among other issues.

Sessions was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 for a judgeship amid accusations that he called a black attorney "boy" — which he denied — and the NAACP and ACLU "un-American."

Sessions called those accusations "damnably false."


1:14 p.m.

A Republican congressman has asked the architect of the Capitol to review whether a high school student's painting of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, should be displayed on Capitol Hill.

The painting has the image of a pig in a police uniform aiming a gun at a protester. It hangs among hundreds of other works of art chosen in last year's Congressional Arts Competition.

In a letter on Wednesday, Republican Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington state says it's not his desire to censor an individual's right to freedom of speech and expression.

But Reichert says the painting is "in clear violation" of the competition's official rules, which state that exhibits "depicting subjects of contemporary political controversy or a sensationalist, or gruesome nature are not allowed."

The painting has set off a battle in Congress, with several Republicans taking it down and Missouri Democrat William Lacy Clay of Missouri putting it back up. Clay maintains that the paint represents free speech. Republicans call it offensive to law enforcement.


12:58 p.m.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says she doesn't know what has been reported or corroborated regarding reports that Russia obtained compromising information about President-elect Donald Trump, but she's long been curious about what information Russia had.

Pelosi says "I've always wondered what did Russia have on Donald Trump that Donald Trump would question whether we should support our sanctions that we had in Europe."

A U.S. official says top intelligence officials told Trump about an unsubstantiated report on him last week. A dossier contains unproven information about close coordination between Trump's inner circle and Russians about hacking into Democratic accounts. It also contains unproven claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump, among other suggestions attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated any of the claims.

Pelosi was speaking on a jobs bill when asked about Trump.


12:16 p.m.

Rex Tillerson says he has no knowledge about whether President-elect Donald Trump or members of his family has any financial interests with Russia.

Trump's pick for secretary of state was responding to questions from Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat who was Hillary Clinton's running mate against Trump in the 2016 election.

Kaine asked to know if Tillerson would be at a disadvantage in negotiations if there another country or individual had information about Trump that Tillerson wasn't aware of.

Tillerson says: "Not to my knowledge."


11:57 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of state says if China doesn't properly enforce U.N. sanctions on North Korea, the U.S. should consider actions to compel them to comply.

Rex Tillerson was responding to a question at his Senate confirmation hearing about the idea of secondary U.S. sanctions on Chinese companies that deal with North Korea.

Tillerson said a "new approach" toward China is necessary to make clear the U.S. expected more from Beijing related to North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

China is a traditional ally of North Korea and accounts for more than 90 percent of trade with the isolated nation.

U.N. sanctions were tightened in September to restrict imports of North Korean coal by China.


11:42 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state says climate change does exist and the risk is great enough to warrant action.

Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson didn't say what action.

Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday the increase in greenhouse gases is "having an effect." But he says the "ability to predict that effect is very limited."

The president elect has sent mixed signals on climate change. He has brushed it off as a Chinese hoax and also said "nobody really knows."

Tillerson says he came to his personal position on climate change as a scientist. He says Trump has invited his thoughts on the contentious subject. "I feel free to express those views," he says.

Tillerson also says he would recuse himself as secretary of state from matters that involve Exxon Mobil.


11:08 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice to be secretary of state says he's not had a conversation with the president-elect about U.S. policy toward Russia.

Tillerson's statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee came despite the intense focus members of Congress have had on Russia over allegations Moscow meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump win.

Tillerson says he favors keeping the current sanctions against Russia in place until the Trump administration takes office.

"I would leave things in the status quo so we can convey it could go either way," Tillerson says.

Tillerson also says Russia's targeted bombing in the Syrian city of Aleppo "is not acceptable behavior" but he's declining to flatly say that Moscow is guilty of war crimes. He says he'll wait until he sees detailed intelligence before making that decision.


11:04 a.m.

Transportation secretary-designate Elaine Chao says the Trump administration wants to unleash the potential of private investors to boost the national transportation networks that underpin the economy.

She told senators at her confirmation hearing that economic gains are being "jeopardized" by aging infrastructure, rising traffic fatalities, growing congestion, and a failure to keep pace with emerging technologies.

Chao, a former labor secretary and deputy transportation secretary, is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell stole a line from a predecessor, former Senate Majority leader Robert Dole, while introducing Chao: "I regret I have only one wife to give for my country." Dole's wife, Elizabeth, is a former transportation and labor secretary.

Chao quipped back: "I will be working to 'lock in' the majority leader's support tonight over dinner."


11:00 a.m.

Protesters briefly interrupted Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing for secretary of state.

One woman shouted, "Please don't put Exxon in charge of the State Department. Protect our children and grandchildren."

She was one of two women holding "Reject Rex" signs who stood up, one after the other, in the cavernous chamber where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding the hearing. The protesters were quickly removed by U.S. Capitol Police.

Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, faces hours of questions Wednesday about President-elect Donald Trump's foreign policy plans.


10:47 a.m.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein is resting at home after having a pacemaker installed this week.

Feinstein, 83, said in a statement Wednesday that the procedure went smoothly and was undertaken out of caution.

The implantation was performed on Tuesday after Feinstein participated in questioning Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions in a hearing on his nomination to be attorney general.

Feinstein says she'll return to a full schedule soon.


10:45 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says sanctions can be a "powerful tool" but they disrupt American businesses.

The CEO of ExxonMobil opposed sanctions levied on Moscow following its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014. The penalties cost the energy giant hundreds of millions of dollars.

He also has spoken of his general opposition to sanctions.

On Wednesday, he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The fact is, sanctions, in order to be implemented, impact American business."

Tillerson also said he never personally lobbied against sanctions and neither, to his knowledge, did his company.


10:38 a.m.

Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, says it's a "fair assumption" Russian President Vladimir Putin knew about Moscow's meddling in America's 2016 presidential election.

Tillerson is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he's not privy to the detailed intelligence about Russia's hacking. But he says he read the declassified report released last week about Russia's interference.

Tillerson says in response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, he would not describe Putin as a "war criminal."

Rubio says Russia's support for Syrian President Bashar Assad and bombing in Aleppo should not make it hard to say that Putin is responsible for war crimes.

Rubio has said he has "serious concerns" about Tillerson as America's top diplomat.


10:30 a.m.

An immigrant brought to the United States as a child is testifying on the second day of Sen. Jeff Sessions's confirmation hearing for attorney general.

The Alabama senator has opposed President Barack Obama's program to allow young immigrants who came to the United States as children to go through background checks in exchange for a promise they would be safe from deportation.

Oscar Vazquez earned a degree in mechanical engineering and served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.

Sessions opposed the comprehensive immigration bill that would have given a path to citizenship to the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally.

Testifying on behalf of Sessions, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey called Sessions "principled, intelligent, honest and thorough."


10:25 a.m.

Rex Tillerson says Russia had no legal right to annex Crimea in 2014.

President-elect Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state is telling the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he would have advised a more robust response than the Obama administration delivered.

The Exxon Mobil CEO is telling the panel that the U.S. should have told Russia that the land grab "stops right here." He adds that "If Russia acts with force, that requires a proportional show of force that there will be no more taking of territory."

Tillerson opposed the sanctions the U.S. levied on Moscow following its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula. The penalties cost the energy giant hundreds of millions of dollars.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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