WASHINGTON — Rex W. Tillerson on Wednesday told a Senate committee weighing his nomination as secretary of state that he would push back hard against President Vladimir V. Putin’s effort to expand Russian influence from Ukraine to Syria to cyberspace. But in a rocky all-day hearing, Mr. Tillerson also found himself on the defensive when it came to Exxon Mobil’s lobbying activities and his reluctance to declare that some dictators were violators of human rights.
One especially skeptical Republican was Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, whose vote on the Foreign Relations Committee might well decide the fate of Mr. Tillerson, the former chief executive of Exxon.
In one contentious exchange with Mr. Rubio, who ran against President-elect Donald J. Trump last year for the Republican nomination, Mr. Tillerson rebuffed an effort to get him to describe Mr. Putin as a war criminal for ordering the bombing of civilians in Chechnya. “I would not use that term,” he said.
By the end of the day, Mr. Rubio would not commit to supporting Mr. Tillerson, saying he was “prepared to do what’s right,” even if it meant siding with Democrats, which would most likely result in a 11-to-10 committee vote against the nomination. Even so, the committee could still send it to the full Senate, where Mr. Tillerson’s chances would be tenuous.
On issue after issue — the dangers of letting Japan and South Korea obtain nuclear weapons, his opposition to a ban on Muslim immigration, the need to push back hard against Mr. Putin’s efforts to expand Russian influence — Mr. Tillerson showed considerable independence from Mr. Trump, separating himself from many of the president-elect’s campaign pronouncements. While Mr. Trump described an America that would defend allies only if they paid their fair share, Mr. Tillerson repeatedly emphasized fulfilling alliance commitments.Read More