WEST ALLIS, Wis. — President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday touted his new pick for secretary of state, telling a crowd at a rally here that a key to the selection of Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, was the relationships he has forged with sometimes-hostile world leaders.
“You know, Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don’t get along with, and some people don't like that, they don't want him to be friendly,” the Republican president-elect said. But, Trump added: “That’s why I’m doing the deal with Rex, ‘cause I like what this is all about.”
The relationships Trump referenced will be central to what is expected to be a contentious confirmation hearing for one of the highest-profile administration jobs. Since Tillerson’s name emerged as a candidate for secretary of state, Democrats and even some Republicans have expressed reservations about his years of work in Russia and the Middle East on behalf of his multinational oil company.
Tillerson’s ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in particular will be closely scrutinized at a time when multiple probes are underway into Russian influence on the U.S. election.
Speaking at the latest stop on his “thank-you” tour, Trump touted Tillerson as “one of the greatest and most skilled global business leaders of our time” and as “a strong man, a tough man.”
And Trump ticked off a list of high-profile supporters of his nominee, including former secretaries of state James Baker and Condoleezza Rice, and former defense secretary Robert M. Gates.
“People are looking at his résumé, and honestly they’ve never seen a résumé like this before,” Trump said of Tillerson, adding that he has “the insights and talents necessary to help reverse years of foreign policy blunders and disasters.”
Trump also shared some of his foreign policy vision, telling a large, boisterous crowd at the state fairgrounds that “our goal is not to build new nations in far-off lands that most of you have never heard of.”
Instead, Trump said, his priorities include plans to “crush” the Islamic State and defeat “radical Islamic terrorism.”
For Trump supporters, the celebration here was particularly sweet given how long it had been since the last time a Republican carried Wisconsin — Ronald Reagan in 1984.
That fact was mentioned many times by speakers who preceded Trump, including three Wisconsin natives who’ve reached the upper echelons of Republican political power: Gov. Scott Walker; Reince Priebus, the incoming White House chief of staff; and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.
“It was before I had a driver’s license, the last time Wisconsin went Republican,” Ryan said as he addressed the crowd from a stage that included an American flag and six Christmas trees.
Trump and Ryan had a rocky relationship during the campaign season, as Ryan never fully embraced Trump’s candidacy. After the speaker drew some boos at the event here outside Milwaukee, Trump tried to smooth things over, telling his supporters, “I have come to appreciate him.”
“You know, honestly, he’s like a fine wine,” Trump said of Ryan. “Every day that goes by, I get to appreciate his genius more and more.”
In Wisconsin, officials announced Monday that Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by 22,748 votes out of about 3 million cast. That followed a recount that showed the margin changed very little after a second tally — with Trump picking up 131 votes.
“How does it feel to win?” Priebus said as he addressed the crowd. “How does it feel to win twice?”