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Tillerson, Sessions Confirmed Despite Democratic Resistance

02-02-2017
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Rex Tillerson is now the country's new secretary of state. The former Exxon-Mobil CEO was sworn in Wednesday night after the U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination in a 56-43 vote.

Republicans also advanced more Trump cabinet nominations despite opposition from Democrats and two members of their own party.

At Tillerson's White House swearing in ceremony, President Donald Trump explained the task at hand for America's top diplomat.

"You understand that the job of our diplomats and the mission of the State Department is to serve the interests of the United States of America to make our nation safer, our country more prosperous and our country much more secure," the president told him. 

"I do believe we can achieve peace and stability in these very, very troubled times," Trump said.

Tillerson expressed appreciation for the cards, letters and prayers he has received from many Americans. 

"As I serve this president I serve their interests and will always represent the interests of all the American people at all times," he said.

Jeff Sessions received Senate committee confirmation Wednesday to be nation's next attorney general.

Also confirmed were the nominations of Tom Price for U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services and Steve Mnuchin for U.S. Treasury secretary.

Senate Finance Committee rules were suspended and action moved forward despite a Democratic boycott of the committee vote.

The absence of all Democrats surprised the usually reserved Chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, who said the move meant that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was now dictating the tactics of all the Democrats on the committee

"All of them appear ready to leap off whatever cliff he designates even if it means breaching the good faith that has long been the hallmark of this committee," he charged.

Nearly two weeks into Trump's presidency, the Senate has confirmed only five of his cabinet nominees. That compares to 10 for President Barack Obama in 2009.

Republicans say Democrats are stalling as they try to delay the inevitable; Trump's nominees are expected to be approved because Republicans have a 52-seat majority in the Senate -- no Democrat votes are needed.

To get them through, nearly all Republicans would have to stand firm. But in the case of Betsy Devos for education secretary, two are defecting from the party ranks:  Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine. 

"I cannot vote to confirm her," insisted Collins.

"I think that Mrs. Devos has much to learn about our nation's public schools," Murkowski explained.

Democrats -- many influenced by the powerful National Education Lobby -- grilled Devos during her confirmation hearing.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked her, "In order to clarify--you never attended a public school did you?"

"Correct," replied Devos. 

"And your children didn't either, correct?" Kaine inquired.

"That's correct," she said. 

"And you've never taught in a K-12 public school?" asked Kaine.

"I have not, but I have mentored in one," Devos replied.

Devos is a strong supporter of school choice: charter schools and vouchers. Republicans say that's the main reason Democrats and the two Republicans oppose her. But if no other Republicans break ranks, Vice President Mike Pence is likely to break a 50-50 tie so Devos would be confirmed.

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