PHOENIX — U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he has reservations about the relationship between Russia and President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson.
“I have concerns about it,” McCain told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Tuesday. “We have a process, as you know, that is called advise and consent. I will let him make his case and I’m sure that I will be meeting with him.”
Trump said he sees Tillerson’s long business relationship with Russia, including its leader, President Vladimir Putin, as a selling point, along with his “vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments.”
“Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream. Through hard work, dedication and smart dealmaking, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of Exxon Mobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies,” the billionaire real estate mogul said in a news release.
But McCain said he isn’t sold.
“I also know, for example, that Mr. Tillerson, after the invasion of Ukraine, opposed the sanctions against Russia,” the senator said. “That’s going to require an explanation from me. Putin invaded Ukraine, it’s that simple. A couple of thousand people were killed.”
McCain said he would prefer to see a relationship with Russia along the lines of that shared between former President Ronald Reagan and former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The pair famously worked to repair diplomatic relations between the United States and Soviet Union, including agreeing to a nuclear arms reduction and the removal of the Berlin Wall.
However, McCain said he isn’t closing the door on Tillerson altogether.
“The president deserves the benefit of the doubt because the American people elected the president and I have treated both Democrat and Republican president nominees the same way,” he said.
McCain is not the only senator Trump will need to win over to get Tillerson confirmed. Others are expected to raise concerns over the nominee’s relationship with Russia.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said he had “serious concerns” about the nomination. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said he expected the U.S.-Russia relationship to be “front and center” in Tillerson’s confirmation hearings.
In a bid to fend off Republican opposition, Trump’s team is lining up support for Tillerson from high-profile national security experts.
Condoleezza Rice, who served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush, called Tillerson a “successful business man and a patriot” who will “represent the interests and the values of the United States with resolve and commitment.”
Arizona’s other senator, Jeff Flake, said the positive words from Republican leaders have him looking forward to Tillerson’s confirmation hearings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.