Senate confirms Rex Tillerson as sec’y of state

WASHINGTON — The Latest on President Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees (all times local):

3 p.m.

The Republican-led Senate has confirmed Rex Tillerson as President Donald Trump’s secretary of state.

Senators voted 56-43 largely along party lines to approve Tillerson’s nomination to be the nation’s chief diplomat.

Most Senate Democrats opposed Tillerson’s nomination, angering Republicans who considered the former Exxon Mobil CEO to be highly qualified for the post.

Sen. Ben Cardin, the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, says he feared Tillerson would be a “yes man” and would not be able to prevent Trump from pursuing a misguided foreign policy that leads the country “on a march of folly.”

But Republicans had the numbers to push Tillerson’s nomination through. They got help from several Democrats who crossed party lines.

Tillerson’s ties to Russia and his stand on sanctioning Moscow have been a point of contention.


2:40 p.m.

A spokesman for Andrew Puzder says the Labor secretary-nominee is working to divest his assets so he can take office as part of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet.

Puzder says he is “fully committed to becoming secretary of Labor.”

In a statement to The Associated Press, Puzder says he’s looking forward to his confirmation hearing, which has been postponed at least three times.

Spokesman George Thompson says Puzder’s work to divest assets is complicated because his fast food empire, CKE Restaurants Inc., is a private company.

The statement comes as Democrats and their allies opposed to Puzder’s nomination have raised questions about his fitness for the post.

Puzder still has not turned in the required paperwork detailing his plan to avoid conflicts of interest.


2:25 p.m.

Two Republican senators have announced their opposition to Betsy DeVos for education secretary.

Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska both say they cannot support DeVos, a wealthy Republican donor and school choice activist. Both said in Senate floor speeches Wednesday that DeVos’ commitment to the nation’s public schools is in question in light of her long-held support for vouchers and charter schools.

If all other GOP senators support DeVos as expected, and all Democrats oppose her, she would end up with a 50-50 vote in the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence would have to break the tie to confirm her.


12:01 p.m.

Democrats temporally thwarted a Senate confirmation vote on President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency by boycotting a key committee meeting.

The seats reserved for the 10 Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee were empty as Wednesday’s meeting to discuss to nomination of Scott Pruitt was called to order. Committee rules require that at least two members of the minority party be present for a vote to be held.

Chairman John Barrasso accused the absent Democrats of engaging in obstruction amounting to nothing more than “political theater.” After recessing, the Wyoming Republican pledged to “do what is necessary” to advance Pruitt’s nomination, raising the possibility the GOP majority may seek a rules change to push the issue to a vote before the full Senate.


11:25 a.m.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has approved the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general after angry exchanges between Republicans and Democrats.

The 11-9 vote was along party lines. All the panel’s Democrats voted against the nomination.

The Alabama Republican is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate. Republicans have been strongly supportive of their colleague, arguing that he will follow the law and maintain traditional independence from President Donald Trump, if needed.

Democrats have expressed doubts that he would be able to say no to the president since he was one of his earliest and strongest defenders in the presidential campaign.

They also expressed concerns about whether Sessions would be committed to civil rights, a chief priority of the Obama administration.


11:10 a.m.

Tempers flared in the usually decorous Senate as the Judiciary Committee weighed a vote on attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions.

Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas traded charges on Wednesday over previous committee testimony.

Franken said he wanted to set the record straight and complained that his integrity had been abused.

Cornyn interrupted Franken as Republicans tried to move ahead and vote on the nominee.


10:50 a.m.

The top Democrat on a Senate panel responsible for advancing President Donald Trump’s pick to head the White House budget office says she needs time to examine the results of a routine FBI investigation before she can vote on Rep. Mick Mulvaney’s nomination.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill says she gained access to Mulvaney’s FBI file just a half-hour before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee vote Wednesday morning. Mulvaney is a Missouri Republican tapped to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

The vote has been postponed by not rescheduled. Mulvaney faces a Budget panel vote on Thursday.

Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain is a critic of Mulvaney’s prior House votes on Pentagon spending, but he said after the hearing that he would have voted to advance Mulvaney.


9:50 a.m.

A Senate committee has approved President Donald Trump’s picks for Health and Treasury secretaries after majority Republicans suspended the panel’s rules. The rule they suspended requires at least one Democrat to be present for votes. It was the latest escalation in partisan tensions in the new Congress.

The Senate Finance Committee approved Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Price to become Health secretary and financier Steve Mnuchin to be Treasury secretary by a pair of 14-0 votes.

Democrats boycotted the meeting, demanding time to ask more questions about both nominees. Democrats say there were unresolved questions about both nominees’ financial backgrounds.


7 a.m.

President Donald Trump’s nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state is headed toward Senate confirmation after several Democrats crossed party lines to back the former Exxon Mobil CEO.

The vote on Tillerson, scheduled for Wednesday, comes as tension builds among congressional Republicans and Democrats over Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees. The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, said the order would be a litmus test for Trump’s remaining Cabinet choices, and that any who refuse to reject the “horrible” new policy should be opposed.

But Democrats lack the numbers in the Senate to block Tillerson from becoming the nation’s chief diplomat. Republicans hold a four-seat advantage and during a procedural vote Monday on the nomination, Democrats Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Warner of Virginia cast their ballots for Tillerson. They’re unlikely to change their minds.