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Why Tillerson’s Confirmation Won’t Be Easy

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Image: Rex Tillerson
Rex Tillerson Kris Tripplaar/Sipa USA

Why Tillerson's confirmation won't be easy

Day One was a pretty good day for Rex Tillerson's bid to become Donald Trump's secretary of state. He received the seal of approval from Condi Rice and Bob Gates (even though they do business with Tillerson's ExxonMobil). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said those endorsements matter to him. "The fact that Condi Rice, James Baker and Bob Gates are recommending Tillerson carries considerable weight. I look forward to the hearings," Flake tweeted. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave him a thumbs up, too. But it's this kind of story, via NBC's Richard Engel, that will ensure a difficult confirmation for Tillerson, especially among GOP hawks like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Marco Rubio (R-FL). "The Kremlin couldn't be happier with the way Trump's cabinet is shaping up, especially with Rex Tillerson as potential secretary of state," Engel reported on NBC's "Nightly News" last night. "Vladamir Milov is a former Russian minister of energy: 'It is absolutely a gift for Putin.'" More from Engel: "Tillerson is best known here for making a deal with an oil giant called Rosneft. That's its headquarters over there, just across the Moscow River from the Kremlin. Analysts say it's a cash cow for president Putin and his inner circle. Mikhal Krutkhin, an energy analyst, says the dividends earned by Rosneft end up in only one place. 'As a personal purse, or wallet, of the Russian president.'"

Team Trump can win here if the nomination is about Tillerson and ExxonMobil; it can lose if it's about Putin and Trump

"Absolutely a gift for Putin," said that former Russian minister of energy. "This news is better than any other possible person for this position," a Kremlin adviser added to the Wall Street Journal. Team Trump can survive here -- and possibly thrive -- if this nomination is about Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil. But they will have a MUCH harder time if it's about Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Donald Trump critics call for him to distance himself from his businesses 2:35

Trump defends Tillerson:"Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with"

Speaking in Wisconsin last night, Trump defended Tillerson as his secretary of state pick. "Rex is one of the greatest and most skilled global business leaders of our time, made some of the greatest deals ever made in the oil industry, or any industry," Trump said. "And, you know, Rex is friendly with many of the leaders in the world that we don't get along with and some people don't like that. They don't want them to be friendly. That's why I'm doing the deal with Rex, cause I like what this is all about and we're gonna have somebody that's gonna be very special."

How Trump won

Be sure to read the latest opus by NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell and Benjy Sarlin about how Donald Trump was able to win the presidency. "Trump's appeals to the economic, cultural and racial fears of his supporters were widely perceived as offensive to women and minorities. Many GOP leaders warned it would be impossible to win a national election by polarizing the electorate and focusing so intensely on a shrinking segment of the population, even as the country is becoming more diverse, educated and culturally tolerant. Trump proved them wrong."

White men can jump

First time since '89 that white men will fill Top 4 cabinet posts: As NBC's Peter Alexander pointed on "Today" this morning, this will be the first time since 1989 when the top four cabinet posts -- for secretary of state, attorney general, Treasury secretary, and Defense secretary -- all went to white wen. And as Rachel Maddow noted last night, if Trump's eventual Agriculture secretary pick is a white man, then the line of succession to the presidency will be 12 white men. That's not a lot of diversity.

Cabinet Watch

Here's our latest look at Trump's emerging cabinet, with NBC News confirming that Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) is the pick to be Interior secretary and with the official announcement of Rick Perry as the selection to head the Energy Department.

  • Secretary of State: Rex Tillerson OFFERED
  • Attorney General: Jeff Sessions OFFERED
  • Treasury: Steve Mnuchin OFFERED
  • Defense: JamesMattis OFFERED
  • Homeland: John Kelly OFFERED
  • Interior: Ryan Zinke OFFERED
  • HHS: Tom Price OFFERED
  • HUD: Ben Carson OFFERED
  • Education: Betsy DeVos OFFERED
  • Commerce: Wilbur Ross OFFERED
  • Transportation: Elaine Chao OFFERED
  • Labor: Andy Puzder OFFERED
  • Agriculture: Sid Miller, Heidi Heitkamp
  • Energy: Rick Perry OFFERED
  • CIA Director: Mike Pompeo OFFERED
  • UN Ambassador: Nikki Haley OFFERED
  • Environmental Protection Agency: Scott Pruitt OFFERED
  • National Security Adviser: Michael Flynn OFFERED
  • Small Business Administration: Linda McMahon OFFERED
  • RNC Chair: Ronna Romney McDaniel OFFERED