Flying pig watch: McCain leaning toward supporting Tillerson?

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Less than two weeks ago, John McCain had a short and pungent response to the question of supporting Rex Tillerson’s nomination by Donald Trump as Secretary of State. McCain told the media that Tillerson had a chance of earning his support, but that “there’s also a realistic scenario that pigs could fly.”

Start scanning the skies, because McCain seems to have changed his mind … at least enough to give Tillerson a pass. “Barely,” he told Martha McCollum after she pressed the question at the end of this interview:

When pressed Monday evening on whether he’ll support Tillerson going forward, McCain said, “Barely, yes.”

“I think [Tillerson] is a good man,” he said. “”I just want him to have an understanding of the moral dimensions of Vladimir Putin in particular, and the slaughter that he has inflicted.” …

“Some of my concerns have been satisfied, [but] I haven’t made up my mind completely,” McCain said.

McCain’s remaining issue with Tillerson is still his acceptance of an award from “that thug” Vladimir Putin, he told McCallum last night. McCain was still talking about it this morning on CNN’s New Day with Chris Cuomo, saying,”I had another conversation with him yesterday where I think he explained better to me his relations with Vladimir Putin.” That friendship still gnaws at McCain, he tells Cuomo:

John McCain on Rex Tillerson: "I question the recipient of a friendship award with Vladimir Putin" https://t.co/LYfoxU9w8X pic.twitter.com/syDZXz8Vc8

— CNN (@CNN) January 17, 2017

There’s not much to be done about The Putin Awards now, but apparently Tillerson has addressed enough of McCain’s other concerns to get a nominal pass on a confirmation vote. That’s for the main floor vote, however, not for the committee recommendation. McCain doesn’t have a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, but Marco Rubio does, and Rubio and McCain are often on the same page when it comes to security issues. Will Rubio follow suit and give Tillerson a pass? As of yesterday, Rubio remained non-committal:

The Florida Republican said he’s awaiting responses to written questions to Tillerson following last week’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

“We’re going to go through the transcripts of the hearing, which I’ve begun to do,” Rubio told reporters in Miami. “We need to have a foreign policy that while always acting in the national interest of the United States is always rooted in our values as a nation.”

Rubio did praise Tillerson’s position on the vital importance of NATO, but that position is in seeming conflict with Donald Trump’s occasional remarks on the Western alliance.

If McCain is on board, though, that would give Tillerson enough Republican ayes in the final floor vote on confirmation with or without Rubio. That leaves Rubio with a couple of options. He could say that Tillerson deserves the up-or-down vote by the full Senate by either voting yes or abstaining in committee; the tie would be enough for Mitch McConnell to move forward without much protest on confirmation. Rubio could then vote aye, nay, or abstain in that final vote. If McCain is signaling acceptance, it’s tough to see how Rubio would vote against Tillerson in committee and put McConnell in the tough position of pushing the floor vote for a candidate rejected by the relevant Senate committee.

In any of those scenarios, Tillerson barely gets confirmed, which is exactly what McCain seems to suggest in these remarks. McCain isn’t done talking about the threat from Russia, though, telling MSNBC’s Morning Joe that Putin is more dangerous to American security than ISIS:

Does Putin pose a greater threat to the U.S. than ISIS? @SenJohnMcCain: I agree with that https://t.co/YIncYVriLI

— Morning Joe (@Morning_Joe) January 17, 2017

Long term, broad spectrum, McCain’s right about this. If Tillerson understands that, then he should get confirmed, rather than have a third successive administration fail to take that geopolitical threat too lightly.

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