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With Tillerson, Trump keeps betting big on business leaders

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson shake hands at a signing ceremony of an agreement between state-controlled Russian oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil at the Black Sea port of Tuapse, southern Russia.

WASHINGTON >> In selecting Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state, President-elect Donald Trump is making the same bet he asked voters to make on him: that a track record of business accomplishment will translate into success in government.

Indeed, Trump, the first billionaire businessman to win the White House, is broadly testing that proposition across his administration. He’s tapped fast food executive Andy Puzder to lead the Labor Department, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross for Commerce, financier Steven Mnuchin as Treasury secretary and Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn as his top economic adviser. And early Wednesday, the billionaire businessman confirmed that he’d settled on former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be the next secretary of energy.

But he’s taking perhaps his biggest chance on Tillerson, pulling an executive from the rough-and-tumble world of oil production into the delicate arena of international diplomacy. If confirmed by the Senate — and his deep ties to Russia make that no sure thing — Tillerson will be at the center of discussions over the Syrian civil war, the intractable pursuit of peace in the Middle East, and potential conflicts with China, given Trump’s early questioning of longstanding U.S. policy toward Beijing.

To Trump, the deals Tillerson has struck around the world for Exxon, and the relationships he has built doing so, are ample preparation for the challenges he would face as the nation’s top diplomat. While Tillerson’s ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin are drawing scrutiny on Capitol Hill, Trump has had good things to say about Putin, too, and Tillerson’s connection doesn’t appear to have given him any pause.

“Rex knows how to manage a global enterprise, which is crucial to running a successful State Department, and his relationships with leaders all over the world are second to none,” Trump said Tuesday.

He’s been making a similar case about himself all year as he sought to persuade voters that a real estate mogul and political novice had the skills to serve as president. He spent little time trying to show voters that his skills extended beyond the boardroom. Instead, he argued that experience was plenty.

Of Perry, Trump praised his Energy Department choice in an early morning statement Wednesday from Trump Tower in New York.

“As the governor of Texas, Rick Perry created a business climate that produced millions of new jobs and lower energy prices in his state,” he said, “and he will bring that same approach to our entire country as secretary of energy .” Perry called it “a tremendous honor” to be chosen for Trump’s evolving Cabinet.

As Trump set about putting his administration together, people close to him say he was quickly drawn to the idea of elite business leaders filling the Cabinet, along with those who have had success in areas outside of politics. He’s tapped three retired generals for top jobs: James Mattis to head the Pentagon, John Kelly for the Department of Homeland Security and Michael Flynn as his national security adviser.

While business leaders have served in Cabinet posts under both Republican and Democratic presidents, the scope of private sector influence in Trump’s burgeoning team is a stark contrast to modern predecessors. Most of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet secretaries had public sector backgrounds, though Interior Secretary Sally Jewell served as CEO of the retail company REI and Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is the retired CEO of Procter & Gamble.

Some of Trump’s picks have come from a more traditional mold. Among them will be former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has been asked by Trump to lead the Energy Department, according to people with knowledge of the decision. Trump has also selected a handful of congressional lawmakers for other top jobs.

But Trump is said to have been particularly intrigued by the prospect of breaking the mold with his choice for secretary of state, one of the most powerful and prominent positions and one that often goes to a diplomatic veteran.

Tillerson came to his attention several years ago when he beat back a motion supported by the Rockefellers — Exxon’s founding family — that would have split the chairman and chief executive position into two different jobs. The president-elect was drawn to Tillerson’s confidence and Texas swagger, according to people with knowledge of the decision.

“Rex Tillerson is a very Trumpian-inspired pick because it’s somebody who, like Donald Trump, has a career outside of politics, and he’s somebody who is accustomed to making big deals and translating that into big impact,” said Kellyanne Conway, one of Trump’s senior advisers.

But for some longtime foreign policy hands, Tillerson is an uncomfortable fit.

“Rex Tillerson has done a fantastic job for Exxon Mobil shareholders,” said Michael McFaul, Obama’s former ambassador to Russia. “I am not sure those same skills qualify him to be secretary of state.”

A native of Wichita Falls, Texas, Tillerson came to Exxon Mobil Corp. as a production engineer straight out of the University of Texas in 1975 and never left. Groomed for an executive position, he has held posts in the company’s central U.S., Yemen and Russia operations.

Early in the company’s efforts to gain access to the Russian market, Tillerson cut a deal with state-owned Rosneft. The neglected post-Soviet company didn’t have a tremendous amount to offer, but Exxon partnered with it “to be on the same side of the table,” Tillerson said, according to “Private Empire,” an investigative history of Exxon by Steve Coll.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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  • Here, here, we need more business people rather than politicians with law degrees to run this country. The various departments needs to be run like a business, and it seems like that is Tump’s thinking. Good for him.

    • Agree on positives of appointing businessmen as long as they do not have a conflict of interest or bias what could hurt US interests. Tillerson as Secretary of State is bothersome because of his close ties to Russia. He has huge interest in seeing sanctions against Russia dropped so a $500 Billion Exxon/Russia project now blocked by sanctions can go forward and in his role as Secretary of State enforcing the sanctions is his responsibility. He has similar conflicts in the MIddle East where what is good for Exxon and Middle Eastern Interests, may not be good for the US. We should not forget the lessons of Hillary’s conflicts with her private foundation which are almost minuscule compared to conflicts that Tillerson has.

      • From what I have read, the sanctions were dumb to begin with.

        The Crimea is traditionally part of Russia. Most of the people there consider themselves Russians.
        Before the breakup of the Soviet Union it was effectively under the control of Russia.
        Russia has a major naval base there.

        With the Ukraine having questionable governments, and its considering being part of NATO, Russia had the prospect of a critical naval institution being in hostile hands. So they decided to take back the Crimea.

        I am puzzled by Senator Lindsey Graham’s statements about Russia meddling all over the world.
        What with Clinton/Obama’s Libya, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, ….perhaps LG should start at home.

        Tillerson is in the mold of an expert that you can give the job to and expect to get it done, and done well.

        Hillary is in the mold of an ideologue that you can expect to attempt to project her fabricated world onto reality, with predictable bad results.

    • I can understand people being wary of Tillerson’s appointment. I think about this though – He will now be working for the American people instead of a private business should his appointment hold.

    • Good One Sandi. I too have been saying this for quite sometime. The Governments needs to step-up and run it like a business.There’s SOOOOOOOOOO Much Waste!Unnecesarry Waste. Here at home and abroad. I like Pres.Trump Policy on “Americanism,Not Globalism”.
      When President Trump and his accountants take a look at the Books,the way things were run in the WH and the Various agencies and Government Contractors. They’ll go in shock! And questions will need to be answered. Department Heads will roll!
      I second that! “We need more business people” running our government and less of the ………”All Talk and NO Action” Getting Rich our Dime Politicians.IMUA

    • Republicans love Putin. Washington Post reports, “In the summer of 2014, both Democrats and Republicans held negative views of the Russian president. His net negative rating with Democrats was 54 points; with Republicans, it was 66 points. At the time, the mainstream Republican foreign policy opinion was that a wily, aggressive Putin was rolling over U.S. interests in Europe. There was some punditry about Putin as a greater leader than President Obama, but it did not shift views of Putin himself.

      “Trump’s campaign did so. There’s been a 56-point positive shift among Republicans in their views of Putin; his net negative rating is now just 10 points. While Clinton voters view Putin negatively by 72 points, Trump voters do so by a slim 16-point margin.”

      Make Russia Great Again!

    • If the government is run like Trump’s businesses, we’re in for a string of bankruptcies. Trump even ran a casino into the ground! George Bush was our first President with an MBA. How did that work out? The business school President gave us the greatest economic disaster since the Great Depression.

      • Hold on there BS artist, gotta’ set you straight so you don’t embarrass yourself further. It was Jimmy Carter’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) later put on steroids by Bill Clinton that lit the fuse for the 2008 economic meltdown. Yes much of the bad behavior by the banks went on during the Bush years but the ranking democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, a congressman by the name of Barney Frank could have and should have seen it coming and stopped it. Somehow Barney saw no problem with banks making home loans to people who could not possibly pay them back. But oops, it seems Barney was accepting huge campaign donations from the banks he was responsible for regulating so the bad behavior continued until the house of cards collapsed.
        Also, surely you are aware that government agencies can not and do not go bankrupt. If that were the case Barry Hussein would have mattered bankruptcy records with his incompetent management of government agencies.

        • Blaming the Community Reinvestment Act for the economic meltdown is a racist meme that has been blown apart by economists and fact checkers. Your theory doesn’t explain why very wealthy homeowners default on their mortgages at the same rate as low income owners.

          The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission established by Congress concluded: “…the CRA was not a significant factor in subprime lending or the crisis. Many subprime lenders were not subject to the CRA. Research indicates only 6% of high-cost loans — a proxy for subprime loans — had any connection to the law. Loans made by CRA-regulated lenders in the neighborhoods in which they were required to lend were half as likely to default as similar loans made in the same neighborhoods by independent mortgage originators not subject to the law.”

          In their paper, “Changes in Buyer Composition and theExpansion of Credit During the Boom,” the researchers from business schools at Duke, MIT, Dartmouth and found:

          “While there was a rapid expansion in overall mortgage origination during this time period, the fraction of new mortgage dollars going to each income group was stable. In other words, the poor did not represent a higher fraction of the mortgage loans originated over the period. In addition, borrowers in the middle and top of the distribution are the ones that contributed most significantly to the increase in mortgages in default after 2007. Taken together, the evidence in the paper suggests that there was no decoupling of mortgage growth from income growth where unsustainable credit was flowing disproportionally to poor people.”

      • Playing the race card are we? Very original to say the least. The CRA absolutely triggered the meltdown. The initial good intentions of the law spun out of control when not just low income, low FICO score people took advantage but everyone and his dog had access to easy money. Yes that includes wealthy homeowners too. It’s just that banks and other mortgage originators knew that had an exit strategy after making bad loans by selling them to quasi-govrmment agencies Fannie Mae and Fredie Mac. And just to solidify my position here’s a quote form congressman Frank regarding the meltdown: In an interview on Larry Kudlow’s show in August 2010, he said “I hope by next year we’ll have abolished Fannie and Freddie … it was a great mistake to push lower-income people into housing they couldn’t afford and couldn’t really handle once they had it.”

    • Agree; we have too many lawyers making side money as politicians. Trump has met as recent as today with top notch CEOs of various US companies to gather thoughts and ideas for a better economic future. And the stock market has responded in a big way.

  • Only the worst kind of person will think they can fool people without consequences. When a con man’s facade wears thin, he will show who he really is. Do not ever forget what he said and did during his campaign. For now, let’s give him a chance to prove that the person we saw then is not who he really is. Some of the people wanted change, literally above all else. Perhaps he can learn tolerance and understanding for disabled persons, or see why he was wrong to say many of the things he did. Seriously, we doubt it.

  • NBC reports, “Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.

    “Putin’s objectives were multifaceted, a high-level intelligence source told NBC News. What began as a “vendetta” against Hillary Clinton morphed into an effort to show corruption in American politics and to “split off key American allies by creating the image that [other countries] couldn’t depend on the U.S. to be a credible global leader anymore,” the official said.”

    Trump was Putin’s unwitting agent. The more he spouted baseless lies about corrupt or rigged elections and illegal voters, the more successful Putin’s plan of disinformation was. Putin’s aim was to discredit American democracy in the eyes of the world and to enhance Russia’s status while America’s declined. Trump was his megaphone. Make Russia Great Again.

    • Your comments present “senior officials with direct access”; “diplomatic sources and spies working for US allies”; “high level intelligence source”. No names or solid source data is given. This is all bs until bs can provide some basis in hard fact.

    • From the Washington times yesterday

      A WikiLeaks figure is claiming that he received leaked Clinton campaign emails from a “disgusted” Democratic whistleblower, while the White House continued to blame Russian hackers Wednesday for meddling in the presidential election and asserted that Donald Trump was “obviously aware” of Moscow’s efforts on his behalf.
      Craig Murray, a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and a close associate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, said in the report by the Daily Mail that he flew to Washington for a clandestine handoff with one of the email sources in September.
      He said he received a package in a wooded area near American University.
      “Neither of [the leaks] came from the Russians,” Mr. Murray told the British newspaper. “The source had legal access to the information. The documents came from inside leaks, not hacks.”

  • Elaine Chao’s family owns ships flagged abroad, a way to avoid U.S. taxes and higher labor costs. But one of Chao’s missions at the Transportation Department will be to press American-owned ships to fly the U.S. flag. (Propublica)

  • Tillerson the Exxon chief will face some religous conservative and Republican resistance in confirmation. He had a large role in opening the Boy Scouts of America to gay youth, and in major donations to Planned Parenthood so from liberal standpoint he is not all bad. Exxon has also approved the Paris Accord on Global Climate Change that Trump wants to pull out of. The biggest concern for mainstream Republicans and for Democrats is Tillerson’s close relationship with Putin and his interest in removing sanctions on Russia to allow a 500 Billion Dollar deal with Exxon to proceed.

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