The U.S. Senate confirmed former chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson to be President Donald Trump’s Secretary of State.
The Texas native got approval in a 56-43 full Senate vote.
The confirmation vote came after Senate Republicans changed the committee rules to approve Mr. Trump’s nominee for treasury and health, despite the Democratic boycott.
Mr. Tillerson faced intense scrutiny over his ties with Russia; he has never held political office before this appointment.
The 64-year-old former oil chief launched a multibillion-dollar deal with Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft, and was awarded the Order of Friendship by the Kremlin in 2013.
He agreed during his Senate confirmation hearing that the West was alarmed by Russian aggression, but refused to label Mr. Putin a war criminal when asked specifically.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly approved Tillerson earlier in 11-10 vote along party lines.
In his capacity as the top U.S. diplomat, Mr. Tillerson will handle relations with countries including Russia and China, and negotiate matters like human rights and climate change, on behalf of President Trump.
The vote in the Senate was largely along party lines, despite speculations that some Republicans would not approve the nomination.
His critics claim that Mr. Tillerson would be unable to give up his corporate interests, while supporters argue that his global deal making experience would bring a fresh perspective to the post.
Rex Tillerson’s predecessors have had less contentious Senate confirmation votes. President Barack Obama’s selections Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were confirmed by the Senate in 94-2 and 94-3 votes respectively. President George W Bush’s Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was confirmed 85-13 while Colin Powell was confirmed by a voice vote.
One of the first challenges Mr. Tillerson would face after taking charge is to allay fears at the State Department over Mr. Trump’s order to ban immigrants from seven Muslim countries.
Almost 1,000 U.S. diplomats and Foreign Service officers signed a memo of dissent on Tuesday over the travel ban.
Republicans in the Senate Finance Committee moved ahead with the approval of Mr. Trump’s Treasury pick, Steven Mnuchin, and Health and Human Services nominee, Tom Price.
The Democrats had boycotted the votes on both the nominees after which the Republicans changed the rules and approved the candidates without the votes from the Democrats.
Democrats had hoped that they would delay the final vote in order to question Tillerson about Trump administration’s travel ban. Tillerson had said in his confirmation hearing that he doesn’t support targeting of any particular group.
Tillerson disagreed with Mr. Trump on many issues in his Senate Confirmation hearing last month. He condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “illegal” and also said that he was not opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal which had been rejected by President Trump.
Tillerson also split with Trump’s campaign suggestion that South Korea and Japan should build nuclear arsenals. He also expressed complete support for NATO, unlike Trump, who has repeatedly questioned the utility of the alliance.