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Senate Foreign Relations Committee may vote against Rex Tillerson's confirmation

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be confirmed for the job as the nation’s top diplomat, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Jan. 11. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President-elect Donald Trump has thus far enjoyed a relatively smooth confirmation hearing process for all his Cabinet appointments, thanks largely to the fact that Republicans control the Senate and seem inclined, for the most part, to unanimously approve Trump's selections. Historically, it would be unusual for every single one of the new president's selections to receive an immediate confirmation, although it would not be unprecedented. Most presidents-elect have at least one nominee either defeated in the Senate or are forced to withdraw at least one nomination due to lack of support.

However, at least one of Trump's nominees faces a potentially rocky path: Secretary of State-designate and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson. Tillerson's performance during his hearings last week was widely panned on both sides of the aisle as lackluster, and Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in particular appeared visibly perturbed with some of Tillerson's answers, calling them "discouraging."

Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told the press last week that he fully expected all of the committee's Republican members to vote for Tillerson's confirmation with the possible exception of Rubio. The problem, for Tillerson, is that the GOP's razor-thin majority in the Senate means that the committee's current partisan composition favors Republicans by a margin of only 11-10. In other words, a single defection — including Rubio's — means that Tillerson's nomination would have to proceed to Senate floor without a recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, if at all.

This morning, Corker seemed to acknowledge that Tillerson's confirmation is in trouble in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and that he intends to move the confirmation to the floor regardless of whether the committee he chairs recommends it or not:

No Democrats have yet publicly stated their intention to vote for Tillerson's confirmation if his nomination does in fact reach the Senate floor. However, even if Democrats — including vulnerable red-state Democrats who are up for re-election in 2018, such as Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) — are able to maintain strict party discipline against Tillerson, at least two Republicans (in addition to Rubio) would have to oppose Tillerson's confirmation in order to block it on the floor.

Thus far, no such Republicans have come forward, although some Republicans have expressed skepticism about Tillerson and some of the questions he faced during the course of his hearing from Republican Senators was unusually hostile. It is still likely that Tillerson will be confirmed, along with all of Trump's other appointees, but Tillerson may face the most difficult test of all.

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