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Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson confirmed as next Secretary of State

The U.S. Senate approved former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as the first Texan in almost 25 years to serve as the country's next Secretary of State.

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies before a Senate Foreign
Relations Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be U.S. secretary of state in Washington, D.C. on January
11, 2017.

Editor's note: This story has been updated.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate officially confirmed former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as the next U.S. Secretary of State Wednesday in a 56-43 vote. Both Senators from Texas, Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted in favor of Tillerson's confirmation.

While at times his prospects seemed unsteady amid concerns about his business relationships with autocratic governments such as Russia, Republicans ultimately fell in line behind President Donald Trump's nomination of the Wichita Falls native. 

The confirmation vote means that Tillerson is the first Texan to serve as the country's top diplomat in nearly 25 years, since James A. Baker held the post during President George H.W. Bush's administration.

Tillerson's appointment to the post seemed to come out of nowhere amid President Trump's transition period. But Baker, in fact, was one of several Bush family loyalists who pushed for the Tillerson nomination, according to reports. 

The Wednesday vote was more of a formality than a suspenseful tally: U.S. Senators had backed Tillerson on Monday on a procedural vote.

Three Republican U.S. senators – Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona and Marco Rubio of Florida – aired reservations about Tillerson but ultimately voted for him. 

At Tillerson's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, Rubio in particular hammered him with queries on Russia, that country's influence in the 2016 election and the Syrian conflict and its handling of dissidents.

Cornyn praised Tillerson Wednesday in a Senate floor speech earlier Wednesday. 

“He believes in putting this country first, and I have no doubt that he will serve the United States with great integrity and care," Cornyn said. "And it's none too early for us to transition to somebody of his great qualifications and experience.”

Cruz also weighed in late Wednesday afternoon. 

"Our next Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brings exceptional qualifications, achievements, and international relationships to his new role leading our Department of State, all of which give me great confidence in our nation’s ability to chart a different, better, and stronger course for our national security," the junior senator said in a statement. 

A University of Texas graduate, Tillerson is likely to serve in the Trump administration with a graduate of rival Texas A&M University: former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who appears on track for Senate confirmation as the next Secretary of Energy. 

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Disclosure: Exxon Mobil Corporation, the  Texas A&M University System and the University of Texas System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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