If ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is confirmed as the 69th secretary of state this year, he would be the first without any military or government experience, according to the Pew Research Center.
Just four secretaries of state in U.S. history had private sector experience like Tillerson has, according to Pew, but they also had military or government experience as well.
Theodore Roosevelt nominated Robert Bacon to the office, who had nine years of experience at J.P. Morgan under his belt before becoming secretary of state. But Bacon was serving as assistant secretary of state when Roosevelt nominated him to the top position, and he didn’t serve long — only 37 days to see out the end of Roosevelt’s term in office in 1909.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt nominated Edward Stettinius, who had served as vice president of General Motors and as chairman of the board for United States Steel Corporation, to be secretary of state in 1944. Like Bacon, Stettinius was already working at the State Department — as undersecretary of state — when he was tapped for the top job, and had previously worked in the White House.
Ronald Reagan had two secretaries of state with serious private-sector experience — George Schultz and Alexander Haig. Schultz had been president of Bechtel, a construction company, for eight years, but had also been secretary of treasury, secretary of labor, and director of the Office of Management and Budget before he was named secretary of state. Haig had been president of United Technologies Corporation for a year before he became secretary of state, but he also had serious policy chops: He was an Army general who had been the supreme allied commander in Europe and served as chief of staff to presidents Nixon and Ford.
So Bacon, Stettinius, Schultz, and Haig are similar to Tillerson in that they headed private-sector companies prior to becoming State Department head, but Tillerson is unique in that he doesn’t share any military or government experience. He has spent his entire career at ExxonMobil, having started working there when was 23.
Will Rex Tillerson’s background hurt him during his confirmation hearings? Probably not. It didn’t stop Republicans on the Hill from endorsing a nominee for president who has no military or government experience, either. It’s Tillerson’s ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Islamist state of Qatar that are cause for concern.
And while Senators Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. (F, 30%) and John McCain, R-Ariz. (F, 32%)are wringing their hands over Tillerson’s connection to Putin, they’d have to join every Senate Democrat in opposing Tillerson, as well as at least one other Republican in order to block his path to the State Department.
Stalling the Tillerson nomination will be difficult in the Senate, meaning that we are entering uncharted territory in the State Department.
He comes from a different kind of swamp.
Maria Jeffrey is a correspondent for Conservative Review. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTJeffrey