- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

After a marathon day of hearings for nominees focused on mainly domestic policy, the heart of President-elect Donald Trump’s presumptive intelligence, defense and foreign policy lineup will be facing the heat on Capitol Hill over the coming two days.

Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Mr. Trump’s unconventional pick for secretary of state, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, while retired Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis and Rep. Mike Pompeo — picked to head the Pentagon and CIA, respectively — will answer lawmaker questions Thursday.

All three are expected to cruise to confirmation, with the best chance for fireworks most likely to come during Mr. Tillerson’s hearing, where Senate Democrats and some Republicans are expected to grill the longtime oil executive over his perceived closeness with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As ExxonMobil’s CEO since 2006, Mr. Tillerson dealt with unstable and authoritarian regimes around the globe, and pursued deep relationships with Russia and Mr. Putin “through drilling projects valued in the billions [of dollars],” said Rachel Rizzo, an analyst with the Center for a New American Security.

In a briefing circulated by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Tuesday, Ms. Rizzo wrote that a key question in Wednesday’s hearing would likely be how Mr. Tillerson plans to shift “from securing Exxon’s shareholder interests to securing American interests, which at times are at odds with one another.”

Democrats are also expected to grill Mr. Tillerson over his views on climate change and the new administration’s plans to change or renounce the 2015 global Paris Climate Accord. Outgoing Secretary of State John F. Kerry spent years pushing for the agreement and made the battle against climate change a central thrust of his tenure as America’s top diplomat.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman and Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker told reporters last week that he anticipates an in-depth and lengthy discussion during the Tillerson hearing.

But he told reporters during a Jan. 6 Christian Science Monitor breakfast that senior Democrats on the panel “have been [pleasantly] surprised” by Mr. Tillerson’s stances on a number of issues during private discussions with the nominee.

Gen. Mattis, who needs a waiver because of his recent military service for the defense secretary post, may face some friction over protocols during his hearing Thursday.

The nomination took a step forward Tuesday when Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain reiterated his support for a congressional waiver. Gen. Mattis, 66, retired as commander of the U.S. Central Command in 2013 after more than 40 years in the Marine Corps.

Calling the former Central Command chief “an exceptional public servant worthy of exceptional consideration,” the Arizona Republican said Tuesday Gen. Mattis‘ exceptional military record warranted a one-time waiver of the rules.

Senate Majority Whip and Texas Republican John Cornyn told Defense News on Monday the waiver could be moved to the Senate floor for a vote by Thursday, the same day as Gen. Mattis‘ confirmation hearing before the Senate defense panel.

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