Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) suggested that Rex Tillerson’s refusal to label Russia’s president a war criminal or Saudi Arabia a human rights violator, he might have difficulty fulfilling all the duties of secretary of state.
Rubio stopped short of saying Tillerson’s answers disqualified him. But he showed no signs of warming to Tillerson’s nomination, which he has criticized since the pick was announced.
“My view is that the president deserves wide latitude in our nominations. But the more important the position is, the less latitude they have,” Rubio told reporters. “It’s like a cone: it’s really wide in some positions — as it gets higher and higher, the discretion becomes more limited and our scrutiny should become higher. And I consider [secretary of state] the highest of them all.”
Rubio grilled Tillerson during the hearing over his position on human rights because, he stressed, America has to stand for something and that it was the responsibility of the secretary of state – “the second most important position in the U.S. government, with all due respect to the vice-president” – to project the country’s image and standards abroad.
“If confirmed by the Senate and you run the department of state, you’re going to have to label countries and individuals all the time,” Rubio said. “When they see the United States is not prepared to stand up and [say], ‘Yes, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, Saudi Arabia violates human rights…it demoralizes these people all over the world.”
He added that he had no questions about Tillerson’s character, or his personal commitment to serving his country.
“You didn’t need this job, you didn’t campaign for this job,” Rubio told Tillerson.
But he warned Tillerson that it was unacceptable not to take a stand on human-rights violations in places like like Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines.