Watch Live Senate confirmation hearing has begun for secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson. Read more and watch our live stream. Senate confirmation hearing has begun for secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson.

“It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia,” he said. The tonic, he said, is to address American weakness and – in ways he didn’t specific – that “Russia must be held to account for its actions.”

Human rights advocates have expressed concern, given the practice by Exxon — and other oil giants — of doing business with governments around the world that ignore or trample human rights.

Huang, said there are “a lot of serious questions about his nomination.”

Apart from Russia and Iraq, she pointed to Exxon’s decades-long partnership with Equatorial Guinea, whose oppressive president has been in power since 1979 and where, despite oil revenues reaching $3 billion a year, the vast majority of people live in poverty.

(In his opening statement, Cardin also referred to that African nation, in a way that seemed a shot across the bow: “When I see massive corruption in countries with extreme poverty, like Equatorial Guinea, I speak out,” he said.)

“The big question that the Senate has to face,” Huang said, “is are the relationships that he’s established and are his actions, a reflection of his business strategy or are they a reflection of his view on the priorities for U.S. policy?”

Corker, R-Tenn., called Tillerson’s experience around the world an asset — even if some of his dealings have been with less savory leaders.

“Rex Tillerson has unbelievable relationships with people around the world that most people coming into the secretary of state job don’t,” he told CNN on Tuesday. But he added that senators will no doubt press him for assurance that he’ll pivot from a focus on profits and corporate interests to a focus on U.S. interests and promotion of democracy and human rights.

Tillerson is no stranger to Congress’ wood-paneled hearing rooms, testifying numerous times during a decade-long tenure as Exxon Mobil’s chief executive that ended last month. Nearly all of it came down to business, covering corporate mergers, climate change and oil spills. 

The Texan also got a taste of the pugilism that often marks contentious confirmation hearings at a 2011 Senate Finance Committee hearing on oil and gas tax incentives. Then-Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, savaged him and other oil executives over their focus on profits, calling them “deeply, profoundly out of touch.”

He thanked Tillerson for his work with the Boy Scouts but added that “I can’t thank you for a lot of other things.”

“I can just observe that, the nature of your life, the nature of your international travel, the nature of the size of your profits, I don’t think you have any idea of what the size of your profits does to the American people’s willingness to accept what you have to say,” Rockefeller said.

Tillerson pushed back immediately, even as Rockefeller glowered on.

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