Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson on Wednesday tangled with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who had questions over his views on climate change and America's relationship with Russia.
Democrats grilled the former Exxon Mobil CEO over whether he believes climate change is a major threat to national and international security based on the majority of scientists.
Ohio Democrat Jeff Merkley linked it to everything from higher incidents of forest fires and deer suffering from ticks who don't die in winter to the conditions that sparked the Syrian civil war.
"I don't see it as the imminent national security threat that perhaps others do," Tillerson responded.
"The facts on the ground are indisputable in terms of what's happening with drought, disease, insect populations, all the things you cite," Tillerson told Merkley. "The science behind the clear connection is not conclusive. And there are many reports out there that we are unable yet to connect specific events to climate change alone. "
Merkely said he was "sorry to hear" Tillerson's viewpoint because the scales are "overwhelmingly" on the other side of the argument.
But Tillerson did express a desire for the United States to have a seat at the table of climate talks, though he opposed a go-it-alone leadership role.
"If America is the only one that's willing to lead, my conclusion is the rest of the world doesn't think it's very important," Tillerson said.
Merkley countered that other nations have only come along in the past when America did take the lead. He cited sanctions against Iran as an example.
Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine earlier Wednesday asked Tillerson about Exxon Mobil's funding of groups that deny the accepted consensus on climate change.
"Senator, since I'm no longer with Exxon Mobil, I'm in no position to speak on their behalf," Tillerson said.
Kaine said he wanted to know Tillerson's own views based on his 41 years at the company.
"Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or do you refuse to answer my question?" Kaine asked.
"A little of both," Tillerson replied.
Though the climate change questions were limited to Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee, members of both parties had questions on Tillerson's views on Russia.
Florida's Marco Rubio, a primary opponent to President-elect Donald Trump, has warned against a cozy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Wednesday, he pressed Tillerson on whether Putin is a war criminal, based on his actions in Syria, purposely bombing civilian targets, including schools.
Tillerson was reluctant to use the term, saying he has not yet been granted access to classified documents that would make him certain of Putin's personal responsibility. He did say, however, that if he personally sees such evidence, he would describe Putin as a war criminal.
New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez asked Tillerson whether he had personally discussed Russia's takeover of Crimea with Trump, and Tillerson said he had not.
"That's pretty amazing," Menendez said.
Tillerson's ties with Russia have been a sticking point with critics. As Exxon Mobil CEO, he was given the country's Order of Friendship in 2013. Trump and Tillerson both have argued that a good relationship with Putin is vital, though Tillerson noted in his testimony Wednesday that Russian leadership has different values than Americans and they are not necessarily to be trusted.
Rubio late Wednesday told reporters he has not yet decided whether he will vote to recommend Tillerson to the full Senate even though failing to do so would deadlock the committee. Should that happen, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have the option of putting Tillerson to a full vote of the Senate without the committee's endorsement.
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