President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the nation’s top diplomat vowed to streamline the State Department to make it more efficient and achieve “cost savings.”
Rex Tillerson was grilled by Democrats and Republicans alike on everything from climate change to potential ethics problems for the former ExxonMobil CEO.
Here are some of the issues discussed during Tillerson’s first appearance on Capitol Hill:
Watch: Tillerson Says Russia Must Be Held Accountable
Russian actions are ‘troubling’
Tillerson said a U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia waged cyberattacks to influence the 2016 presidential election “clearly is troubling,” but noted that he does not yet have the security clearance to view the full report. He also acknowledged during Wednesday’s confirmation hearing that such a cyber intrusion would not have happened without Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sign off.
He talked a lot tougher when asked about Russia’s seizure of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Asked if Moscow had a legal claim to the region, Tillerson replied, “No sir. That was a taking of territory that was not theirs.”
Asked what he would have done differently, Tillerson went even further.
“I would have recommended that Ukraine take all of the military assets that it had available, put them on the eastern border … [and] announce that the U.S. was going to provide them intelligence,” he said.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio asked Tillerson that given Russia’s actions in Chechnya and Syria that have resulted in civilian deaths, does that make Putin a war criminal?
Tillerson responded: “I would not use that term.”
Watch: Tillerson Nuclear Proliferation
Risk of climate change does exist
Tillerson said the risk of climate change does exist and “action should be taken” to combat it.
Asked by committee Chairman Bob Corker if climate change is a result of human activity, Tillerson did not answer the question directly, saying, “The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect. Our ability to predict that effect is very limited.”
Breaks with Trump on Muslim registry
In stark contrast to the harsh tones embraced by Trump, Tillerson called Islam a “great faith” and insisted that part of fighting terrorism must involve working with moderate Muslims around the world.
But he did not completely oppose Trump’s call for a Muslim registry.
“I would need to have a lot more information around how such an approach would even be constructed,” Tillerson told Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “And if it were a tool for vetting, then it probably extends to other people as well, other groups that are threats to the U.S. It would just require me much more information around how that would even be approached.”
Watch: Tillerson on Russia, China, Risk of Climate Change