President-elect Donald Trump may have demonstrated another instance of veering from his core campaign policy platforms with a major cabinet selection in his likely Secretary of State pick, ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson has a history of supporting policies opposite to many of the themes the president-elect highlighted during his campaign, including on Common Core education standards, using sanctions to enact foreign policy objectives, carbon tax, climate change, and on global trade and energy policy.
In the Wall Street Journal back in 2013, Tillerson wrote an oped praising Common Core—which Trump opposes—as “vital” to the United States. In it, he said, “Leaders from government and business, and parents,n eed to defend the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted wholly or in part by dozens of states in recent years but are increasingly under attack from across the political spectrum.”
Tillerson wrote that those who believe that the Common Core places control of education in the hands of far-distant bureaucrats—taking it away from teachers and parents and kids—are “misguided” and argued that Common Core is the “path to renewed competitiveness” and should be “at the center of every state’s effort to improve the education—and future—of every American child.”
Back in 2014, at a shareholder meeting, Tillerson came out publicly against economic sanctions as a foreign policy tool—something that could limit his and the Trump administration’s ability to implement Trump’s vision on the world stage. The United States and its allies regularly use sanctions to muscle an agenda—the western worldview—on the world stage, in negotiations with countries like Cuba, North Korea, Iran, and even nations like Russia or China. Taking that tool off the table would significantly undermine the ability of the president and the United States to shape world events.
“We do not support sanctions, generally, because we don’t find them to be effective unless they are very well implemented comprehensively and that’s a very hard thing to do,” Tillerson said at the 2014 shareholder meeting.
In remarks to the vehemently anti-Trump Council on Foreign Relations in 2007, Tillerson argued against U.S. energy independence—and for more globalist trading when it comes to energy. Tillerson said, according to Bloomberg:
Should the United States seek so-called energy independence in an elusive effort to insulate this country from the impact of world events on the economy, or should Americans pursue the path of international engagement, seeking ways to better compete within the global market for energy?Like the Council’s founders, I believe we must choose the course of greater international engagement. … The central reality is this: The global free market for energy provides the most effective means of achieving U.S. energy security by promoting resource development, enabling diversification, multiplying our supply channels, encouraging efficiency, and spurring innovation.
That’s diametrically opposed to what Trump supports with energy policy, since Trump wants to unleash American energy and for the U.S. to be more independent rather than having to lean on the Middle East and the rest of the world. Trump made this very clear over the course of the campaign.
Perhaps the most controversial thing Tillerson backs is a carbon tax. Tillerson said in a 2009 speech before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars:
A carbon tax is also the most efficient means of reflecting the cost of carbon in all economic decisions — from investments made by companies to fuel their requirements to the product choices made by consumers. A carbon tax may be better suited for setting a uniform standard to hold all nations accountable. This last point is important. Given the global nature of the challenge, and the fact that the economic growth in developing economies will account for a significant portion of future greenhouse-gas emission increases, policy options must encourage and support global engagement.
Trump is vehemently opposed to a carbon tax. On Twitter in May, Trump made very clear he does not—and will not—support a carbon tax. “I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!”
.@thehill Your story about me & the carbon tax is absolutely incorrect—it is just the opposite. I will not support or endorse a carbon tax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 13, 2016
Americans for Tax Reform praised Trump’s opposition to a carbon tax, too.
“Trump’s opposition to a carbon tax shows that he is well aware of just how economically disastrous such a tax would be for the country,” ATR wrote. “The imposition of a carbon tax would not only impact the competitiveness of the U.S. economy, but also would drive up energy prices, inevitably leading to higher consumers costs and reduce the household income of millions of American families.”
On climate change, Tillerson testified once before Congress that it is real–and that he believes people are behind it.
“We have said for some time that there is no question climate is changing, that one of the contributors to climate change are greenhouse gasses that are a result of industrial activities,” Tillerson said in congressional testimony in 2010 before a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee panel.
Tillerson was also a donor to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and has funded other establishment Republicans like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney among others. As of mid-July, he had not donated to Trump’s campaign, according to a report from Inside Climate News; at that point Trump was the presumptive or actual GOP nominee for some time. It’s unclear if he later financially backed Trump’s campaign.
This selection comes on the heels of the highly controversial pick of Andy Puzder to head the Labor Department. Puzder is coming under criticism from the left and the right for anti-American worker statements he has made over the years with respect to his backing of amnesty for illegal aliens and mass-scale migration into America to have a foreigner-laden workforce replace American workers.
In addition to those policy concerns–and potentially others where he veers from Trump–Tillerson’s closeness with Russian president Vladimir Putin is likely to cause some tension in Washington. He first met Putin back in 1999, and was so close with the Russian leader that the Kremlin awarded Tillerson one of the highest civilian honors of the Russian government in 2013: The Order of Friendship.
These connections may be part of the reasoning behind Tillerson’s 2014 comments about sanctions, as several reports wonder if the sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine cost ExxonMobil millions–perhaps billions–in lost oil revenue.
Bloomberg News reported back in 2015:
It was a moment of triumph for the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil. Almost a decade into the job, Rex Tillerson learned in September 2014 that the costliest well in the company’s history had struck oil a mile beneath the icy seas off the Siberian coast. It was what the industry likes to call an elephant—as much as a billion barrels, then worth about $97 billion. Exxon’s Russian partner, Rosneft, estimated the ocean floor around the $700 million well could hold more crude than the entire Gulf of Mexico. Tillerson had bet big on Russia, and it looked like he’d finally silence concerns that Exxon’s crude output had plummeted for most of his tenure.
Yet no sooner had the company made the energy industry’s most promising find in 45 years than Exxon was packing up the drilling rig and going home. The short-lived victory had been snatched away by economic sanctions imposed in response to Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s support of Ukrainian rebels. The setback reignited debate over whether Tillerson, who along with Exxon declined to comment for this story, bet too much of the company’s future on Russia, a country led by a former spy with a bent toward military interventions and economic nationalism.
An October 2016 report from OilPrice.com estimates that Tillerson’s company lost a billion dollars from the sanctions.