VIDEO: Udall Questions Trump Secretary of State Nominee Tillerson about Conflicts of Interest, Climate Change in Confirmation Hearing
WASHINGTON - Today, during confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of State, U.S. Senator Tom Udall pressed the former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson about his position on climate change and whether he will continue his relationship with ExxonMobil if he is confirmed as the nation's top diplomat. Udall will take Tillerson's responses to his and other committee members' questions into consideration as he prepares to cast a vote on whether to confirm Tillerson.
Udall began by asking Tillerson whether Americans can be assured that he will put the interests of the nation ahead of Exxon's, given that Tillerson spent his entire career at Exxon, including as its highly paid CEO. Udall has strongly urged Tillerson to make his tax returns public in order to be completely transparent with regard to his relationship to industries that might have interests that deviate from that of the U.S. government.
"Exxon has done and continues to do business in various countries in the world that are very problematic to the U.S.," Udall said during his questioning. "In some cases, some of those countries are just outright hostile. We now know Exxon did business in Iran, and Iran's regime has supported terrorist attacks against Americans. Exxon has a massive oil interest in Russia, which has recently acted to undermine our elections and civil society. And of course, Exxon has a history of major political contributions and a large Washington lobbyist presence. Would you permit Exxon to lobby the State Department under your leadership?"
Tillerson responded that he would recuse himself from matters related to Exxon, and this commitment is for one year. "I would not extend to the new chairman CEO of ExxonMobil any courtesies beyond that I would extend to anyone."
Udall continued to press. "I'm trying to understand what kind of limits you're going to put on yourself in terms of dealing with your company and your employees. Give us an understanding of the policy you're going to follow if you're approved as to how you're going to deal with these situations. I mean there are many countries as you know in the world, to give you some examples, Australia, Equatorial Guinea, Malaysia, Nigeria, Qatar, Russia and the United Kingdom. Exxon right now is asking for tax dollars back from those, and if you're carrying out foreign policy in those countries, how are you going to deal that situation in terms of contact with Exxon, your former colleagues, that kind of situation?"
Tillerson responded that he would follow the law with regard to disclosure, and would "expect to seek the guidance of counsel and follow their guidance" in other situations.
Regarding climate change, Udall asked Tillerson about whether he agrees that climate change is real, his positions on the Paris Agreement to fight global warming, and a carbon tax. Tillerson's answers show that he deviates from Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax."
Udall asked: "While you were CEO of Exxon, the company website stated, 'The risk of climate change is clear and the risk warrants action. Increasing carbon emissions in the atmosphere are having a warming effect. There is broad scientific and policy consensus that action must be taken to further quantify and asses the risks.' I understand that if confirmed you will be serving under President-elect Trump. But do you still personally stand by this statement today, yes or no?"
In response, Tillerson acknowledged that he believes that climate change is real and warrants action. "I do not take exception to that statement," Tillerson said. "I might articulate it a little differently as to my personal views."
In a second round of questions, Udall followed up: "Mr. Tillerson, in your capacity as CEO of ExxonMobil, you praised the Paris agreement last year, noting that addressing climate change 'requires broad-based, practical solutions around the world.' Do you personally believe that the overall national interests of the United States are better served by staying IN the Paris Agreement? If so, why, and if not, why not?"
Tillerson responded that he agrees that the United States is better served by having a seat at the table to address the issue as a global basis.
"It would be very unfortunate I think to move away from the table," Udall replied.
Udall also asked how Tillerson will treat career State Department employees who are working on climate change policy. "During the transition, some departments have been asked to name individuals involved in climate policy and who attended international climate meetings, which made many federal employees concerned about a witch hunt against civil servants involved in climate policy. Do you plan, or would you support, any efforts to persecute, sideline, or otherwise retaliate against career State Department employees who have worked on climate change in the past?"
Tillerson responded: "That would be a pretty unhelpful way to get started."
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