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Tillerson nomination for Secretary of State picks up steam in the Senate

Exxon Mobil CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson gives a speech at the annual Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition in November. (AP/Jon Gambrell)

A number of key senators tasked with approving President-elect Donald Trump's top Cabinet choices are warming up to the idea of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Though the Senate is fairly divided on Tillerson's nomination, partly due to his close ties to Russian business interests, many top Republicans are falling in line.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) have voiced support for the nomination, and Republican Sens. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Rand Paul (Ky.), both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, are keeping open minds, The Hill reported.

Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, praised Tillerson for his “incredible career" around the globe.

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Senior Republican aides say they expect the Senate to confirm Tillerson next month, citing the support he has from GOP foreign policy heavyweights.

Tillerson also has strong support from the business community and is well-versed in the art of congressional testimony, having appeared before lawmakers more than six years ago to testify about the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The fact that you have a couple of Republicans expressing concerns about the nominee shouldn’t scandalize anyone. That’s why we have hearings,” said a senior Senate Republican aide.

“The guy has a tremendous record of accomplishment, a tremendous record of dealing with people at a high level on the world stage,” the aide added. “My guess is that he’ll end get up getting confirmed, but not without some turbulence.”

If a small group of Republicans oppose his nomination, Tillerson could be stopped from becoming Secretary of State. However, no presidential Cabinet nominee has been denied confirmation since 1989.

Still, if a candidate appears to be in trouble, the president can withdraw their nomination. Six nominations have been withdrawn since 1993, according to the Constitution Center.

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