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GOP Opposition to Potential Trump Cabinet Nominees Grows

Republicans control the Senate, but a growing few have indicated they'll break ranks to oppose some Trump cabinet nominees.
Image: Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, testifies about the company's acquisition of XTO Energy before the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington
Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, testifies about the company's acquisition of XTO Energy before the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington. on Jan. 20, 2010.Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Donald Trump's unified wall of partisan support has shown a few cracks over Cabinet appointments that run counter to both campaign promises and traditional Republican foreign policy ethos.

Breitbart, the normally pro-Trump, right-wing website formerly run by top Trump adviser Steve Bannon, accused the president-elect of putting foreign labor ahead of American workers by choosing fast food CEO Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor.

The Conservative Review, meanwhile, called Puzder an "open border zealot."

Meanwhile, Erick Erickson, a staunch Trump critic who applauded him for picking Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, wrote for his conservative website The Resurgent that nominating former Goldman Sachs executive Steven Mnunchin would mean the ratification of the "status quo."

But it was perhaps the news that Trump intends to tap ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who has ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, that has engendered the most vocal opposition from elected officials within his party.

Marco Rubio was one of the first Republicans to take a shot a Tillerson, with the Florida senator tweeting, "Being a 'friend of Vladimir' is not an attribute I am hoping for from a #SecretaryOfState."

Sen. John McCain told NBC News on Saturday that Tillerson's ties to Russia would be the subject of any Senate confirmation hearing. On Fox News, he said the relationship was a "matter of concern."

"You want to give the president of the United States the benefit of the doubt because the people have spoken. But Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying," McCain told Fox News.

Tillerson, who has spent his entire career with the energy company that has dealings with dozens of foreign nations, was awarded the Order of Friendship from the Kremlin in 2013. Tillerson openly criticized the Obama Administration for imposing sanctions against Russia for invading Crimea in 2014, since those sanctions negatively affected ExxonMobil's lucrative oil deals in the country.

To some, the news of Tillerson's expected nomination is the strongest indicator yet of how Trump intends to approach the United States' policy with regard to Russia.

New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, which vets candidates, called Tillerson's potential nomination "alarming and absurd."

But blocking Tillerson — or any of Trump's nominees that require Senate confirmation — will be impossible without Republican support. Filibuster is no longer an option. Now, thanks to their deficit in the Senate, 48 seats to Republicans' 52 seats, the Democrats need at least three Republican senators to defect against partisan lines.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said he would be an "automatic no" vote against former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, who sources told NBC News Trump will name as Tillerson's deputy secretary of state.

Bolton argued forcefully in 2002 that Iraq had hidden weapons of mass destruction and continued to defend his position even after it was discovered that Iraq harbored no such weapons.

“John Bolton doesn’t get it. He still believes in regime change. He’s still a big cheerleader for the Iraq War. He’s promoted a nuclear attack by Israel on Iran. He wants to do regime change in Iran,” Rand said.

Trump, appealing to anti-interventionists on the campaign trail, repeatedly made the false claim claim that he was against the Iraq War ahead of the invasion.

The news of Tillerson's expected nomination came a day after the CIA concluded that Russia interfered with the U.S. election with the intent of helping Trump win.

In response to the CIA's analysis, McCain, along with Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Jack Reed, issued a joint statement.

“For years, foreign adversaries have directed cyberattacks at America's physical, economic, and military infrastructure, while stealing our intellectual property. Now our democratic institutions have been targeted. Recent reports of Russian interference in our election should alarm every American," they said. "This cannot become a partisan issue. The stakes are too high for our country."