(Updates with quotes from McCain, Coons)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON Jan 4 Rex Tillerson, President-elect
Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of state, won over
Republicans during meetings at the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, but
Democrats want more time to consider his record, especially his
ties to Russia.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee, described Tillerson as "very much
in the mainstream" of U.S. foreign policy thinking.
Tillerson, Exxon Mobil's former chairman and chief
executive, drove the company's expansion in Russia and opposed
sanctions imposed over its annexation of Crimea.
Many lawmakers, including Republicans, have expressed
concerns about Tillerson's relationship with Moscow, given its
differences with Washington not only over Ukraine but the civil
war in Syria.
Asked on Wednesday if he could support Tillerson, Republican
Senator John McCain, a leading U.S. critic of Russia, told
reporters: "Sure. There's also a realistic scenario that pigs
fly," the Houston Chronicle reported.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Russia
intervened in the 2016 election to help the Republican Trump.
Corker, whose committee will conduct Tillerson's
confirmation hearing, which is expected to start on Jan. 11,
told reporters he was comfortable Tillerson would lead a robust
U.S. policy toward Russia.
Senator Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the foreign
relations panel, said after his meeting with Tillerson that he
had not reached any conclusion on him.
"We're just at the beginning of the process," Cardin told
reporters after spending about an hour with the nominee.
Tillerson did not speak to reporters.
Russia and Tillerson's view of sanctions are expected to be
a focus of Tillerson's confirmation hearing, which could last
for two days next week.
Democrats have called for a delay before Tillerson's
hearing, given the complexity of his financial records and ties
to Exxon after spending decades at the oil giant.
Cardin said it was too soon to discuss Tillerson's agreement
announced late on Tuesday to sever all ties to Exxon Mobil to
comply with conflict-of-interest requirements.
Senator Chris Coons, another Democrat on the foreign
relations panel, said next week may be too soon for the hearing,
given Republicans' plans to vote at the same time to repeal
Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
"It strikes me as trying to get too many things done at the
same time," he said. Coons said he was "generally encouraged" by
some of Tillerson's answers during their 1-1/2-hour meeting but
had not decided whether to support his nomination.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Susan
Cornwell; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)