Sen. Angus King announced Monday that he will support the nomination of Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, but will oppose Sen. Jeff Sessions for the position of attorney general.

Tillerson’s nomination cleared a Senate hurdle Monday, setting the stage for an extended debate over the president’s order banning travel from specific Muslim-majority countries and U.S. policy toward Russia.

Senators voted 56-43 to put Tillerson’s bid to be the nation’s chief diplomat on track for confirmation later this week. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., pressed unsuccessfully for a delay in the vote until Tillerson answered for Trump’s travel ban order.

“I have arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Tillerson can and will effectively lead the State Department and serve as a critical moderating influence on and counterweight to the more impulsive forces within the current Administration,” King, an independent, said in a news release Monday. “I still harbor concerns regarding Mr. Tillerson’s past connections to Russia, as well as some activities that occurred at ExxonMobil during his tenure, but, on balance, those concerns are ultimately outweighed by the need to have a strong and serious leader at the helm of the State Department – someone who can offer the President forceful, but thoughtful and measured judgment on the critical issues we face.”

King also outlined his reasons for opposing Sessions’s nomination in the release.

“While I consider Senator Sessions a friend, I am not voting to confirm a friendship. I am voting to confirm the next Attorney General of the United States,” King wrote. “And I believe that this individual will need to stand up to the President when they believe he is wrong.

“While I certainly have concerns with Senator Sessions’ record, ultimately, I am concerned that he will not approach this critical role with the independence that is required, and that, as a result, the President could exercise an unchallenged influence in the affairs of the Justice Department, which must often take objective positions that may be at variance with the views of the Administration.”


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