The U.S. Senate is pressing ahead on President Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, with a procedural vote that puts the confirmation on track for later this week.
In a vote of 56-43, Rex Tillerson received the backing of a majority of the Republican-led chamber Monday evening, in a vote that sets in motion a confirmation hearing in the coming days.
Many Democrats oppose Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's former CEO, but are unable to derail the nomination unless several Republicans join them, a feat that appears unlikely.
Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for a delay in the confirmation vote until Tillerson answers questions about Trump's executive order temporarily banning entry to refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Two leading Republican senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have criticized Trump for failing to consult with key federal agencies before issuing the travel bans. They have also voiced concern over Trump's desire to have better relations with Russia; however, the two senators have not indicated they will hold up Tillerson's nomination.
Tillerson, 64, recently resigned from Exxon Mobil. Tillerson's massive oil deals with Russia have raised questions about his close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who in 2013 gave Tillerson Russia's Order of Friendship, an honor reserved for foreigners.
Tillerson told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month that Russia poses a danger to the United States, and "its recent activities have disregarded American interests."
He told the lawmakers,“Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed by a resurgent Russia,” and said Trump has urged closer relations with Russia to address a resurgence that occurred in the "absence of American leadership."
Tillerson said the United States is "not likely to ever be friends" with Russia, noting that values between the two countries are "starkly different." He maintained that "dialogue is critical" so that matters of mutual interest to the U.S. and Russia do not "spin out of control."
Tillerson, trained as a civil engineer, joined ExxonMobil right after he graduated from the University of Texas and moved up the corporate ranks over the next four decades. He is known for his international deal-making skills, and is said to have good relations with a number of heads of state around the globe, which would be an important asset for the top U.S. diplomat.