Tillerson sworn in as secretary of state; Education pick DeVos l - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

Tillerson sworn in as secretary of state; Education pick DeVos losing GOP support

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Rex Tillerson was approved by the Senate to be the U.S. Secretary of State. (Source: AP) Rex Tillerson was approved by the Senate to be the U.S. Secretary of State. (Source: AP)
House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., arrives with Health and Humans Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., for a closed-door GOP strategy session, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., arrives with Health and Humans Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., for a closed-door GOP strategy session, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Steve Mnuchin is Trump's pick as treasury secretary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Steve Mnuchin is Trump's pick as treasury secretary. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, is one step closer to becoming attorney general after a Wednesday senate committee vote. (Source: CNN) Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, is one step closer to becoming attorney general after a Wednesday senate committee vote. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) - The U.S. Senate approved President Donald Trump’s pick of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state. Tillerson became the United States' 69th secretary of state by a vote of 56 to 43. The GOP controls the Senate by a 52-48 margin. The former ExxonMobil CEO’s nomination passed a Senate panel by an 11-10 party line vote on Jan. 23. He was sworn in late Wednesday.

The large number of no votes made the selection the most contentious in the past 50 years. In that time the most contested confirmations for secretary of state were Condoleezza Rice in 2005, who passed with a vote of 85-13, and Henry Kissinger, who was approved 78-7 in 1973, the New York Times reported.

Tillerson, 64, came under scrutiny for his past business relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The backers of the oil industry veteran said his ties with the Russian leader were just part of the job for the leader of a worldwide company.

The University of Texas graduate in civil engineering worked 41 years at Exxon, rising from an engineer to become CEO in 2006.

Also on Wednesday, two Senate Republicans said they would not vote to approve Betsy DeVos, Trump's choice for secretary of education. DeVos had a rocky confirmation hearing and drew charges of plagiarism by answering written questions from the committee with a quote that was almost identical to a statement by an Obama appointee.

Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski said they would not support DeVos, and both said they had only cast committee votes for her so that the entire Senate could consider her qualifications, according to Newsweek.

Only nine other cabinet nominees in American history have been rejected by Congress. The White House said it remains confident she will be approved.

A few hours earlier, Republicans on a Senate committee had to make a rules change to approve Steve Mnunchin, Trump's nominee for treasury secretary, and Tom Price, the nominee for health secretary.

In addition, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nominations of Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, as attorney general, by a 11-9 vote that fell along party lines. His nomination goes to the full Senate next.

To sidestep a Democratic boycott of the finance committee, the GOP members on the Senate Finance Committee changed the rules to allow the confirmation to proceed to the Senate floor. 

They suspended a rule requiring at least one Democrat to be present for the committee votes, approving both nominees 14-0.

President Donald Trump embraced changing the rules to get his nominees approved.

In Wednesday comments, he urged Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell to go "nuclear" if Democrats block his Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. 

"It's up to Mitch, but I would say, 'go for it,'" Trump said.

"Going nuclear" refers to dispensing with the filibuster rule, which would allow Supreme Court nominees to be approved with a simple majority vote of 51, rather than the 60 votes required to break a fillibuster.

The Democrats boycotted committee meetings related to Mnuchin and Price's nominations Tuesday and Wednesday.

Price, R-GA, is a former physician and was a leading critic of the Obama Administration's signature law, the Affordable Care Act. He has introduced multiple bills in the last six years in an attempt to replace what's commonly known as "Obamacare."

Price has been scrutinized for a report stating he received a special offer for stock of a medical biotech company. Also, he proposed a bill that would have helped Zimmer Biomet, a company he recently purchased stock in, although he claimed the purchase was done through a broker and he was not aware of it.

Mnuchin, an investor, has been criticized for his Wall Street ties.

Democrats decided to stall Mnuchin's confirmation hearing after reports surfaced that he misled the Senate on his business record. He told the Senate Committee on Finance that his former bank, OneWest, did not use robo-signing to speed up the approval of foreclosures. The Columbus-Dispatch, however, ran a report on Sunday claiming that Mnuchin and his bank did use the controversial practice. 

Employees at mortgage servicing companies used robo-signing to authenticate several foreclosure documents at once, forgoing the lawfully required step of insuring they were properly filled out. 

On Tuesday, CNN published an article scrutinizing Mnuchin's management of foreign investments. The crux of the issue was the uncertain makeup of numerous offshore entities, including investments in the Cayman Islands, a well-known tax haven.

Mnuchin told the committee the offshore entity was created to provide investment opportunities for pension funds and nonprofits, adding that there were only a few foreign investors.

But parts of the offshore entity and other finance vehicles, some of which weren't disclosed by Mnuchin to the committee, hold gross assets of more than $240 million. Foreign investors held large percentages of each investment and one was 100 percent foreign-held.

The foreign investment is not illegal and is not required to be disclosed. But Mnuchin's role in the entities was supposed to be revealed to the committee, but was not until the committee's Democratic investigative staff discovered the SEC document, according to CNN.

Critics have slammed Sessions, the attorney general nominee,over his stance on the voting rights act and a persceptions he will not protect civil rights.

Protesters often have interrupted Sessions' hearings, including Wednesday's committee hearing, and Monday, protesters from the NAACP were arrested outside Sessions' Mobile, AL, congressional office.

Before the vote, Sen. Al Franken, D-MN, sharply condemned Sessions and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, for misrepresenting Sessions' record on civil rights in previous testimony. Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, interrupted him, and the two traded barbs. 

"We have an important job to do here and it's important that we understand the nominee's record accurately. It's not our job to shade the record," Franken said.

Sessions, 69, is a senior member of both the Senate Budget Committee and Judiciary Committee and also serves on the Committee on Armed Services and Committee on Environment and Public Works.

His views on immigration and tighter controls over the Mexican border are in direct agreement with Trump. They also have similar views on financial policy.

One area where the two disagree is the war in Iraq. Sessions has been an enthusiastic supporter of the U.S. military effort and has not been shy about criticizing those who disagree. However, Trump has said the war is one of former President George W. Bush's greatest failures.

Before entering the Senate, Sessions was the attorney general of Alabama for two years. He had previously been a U.S. attorney in the state for 12 years, a position for which President Ronald Reagan nominated him.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer has used press briefings to repeatedly criticize the Democrats for stalling Trump's nominees. He has often cited that the Obama administration had more nominees approved at this point in 2009.

Sen. Orin Hatch, R-PA, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, accused Democrats of acting "like idiots" on Tuesday after they announced they would boycott the confirmation hearings.

The Democrats have been haunted by a rule change made by their own party in November 2013, when they held a majority in the Senate. The so-called "nuclear option" made presidential nominees for the Cabinet and other executive and judicial appointments easier to approve, only requiring a 51 vote majority. By doing so, the Democrats ended the 60-vote requirement to overcome a filibuster.

In addition, 10 Democrats boycotted a meeting of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considering EPA chief Scott Pruitt on Wednesday. He is considered an unpopular choice among Democrats because as Oklahoma'a attorney general, he has sued the EPA.

Democrats on the committee complained that Pruitt hadn't answered enough questions about his record as Oklahoma attorney general.

The political environment has been particularly contentious since the executive order stopping refugees and visitors from seven countries.

Some confirmations have proceeded in the Senate, however. Elaine Chao was confirmed as secretary of transportation Tuesday.

 Copyright 2017 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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