U.S. Senate advances nomination of Tillerson as Secretary of State

Rex Tillerson, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil, testifies. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate advanced the nomination of former Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N Chief Executive Rex Tillerson on Monday to be President Donald Trump's secretary of state, moving closer to filling a key seat on the Republican's national security team despite partisan rancor over Trump's immigration order.

The vote was 56 to 43 to move toward a final confirmation vote after up to 30 hours’ debate, putting a final vote very early on Wednesday, if senators do not agree to change the time.

The vote broke largely along party lines. Every Republican favored advancing the nomination and all but four members of the Democratic caucus voted against it.

The Senate’s Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, and several other members of the party tried, but failed, to delay considering Tillerson because of Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven mostly Muslim countries and temporarily halting the entry of refugees.

They said they wanted to question Tillerson more closely on his views on Muslim immigration. During his confirmation hearing, the former oil executive said he did not support a “blanket-type rejection” of any group of people.

Democrats said that statement seemed to contradict Trump’s order.

Trump and his supporters, including many Republicans, said his order is necessary to keep Americans safe and is not intended to ban Muslims, despite addressing only Muslim-majority nations whose citizens have not been involved in attacks on the United States.

They said it was important to fill important slots on Trump’s national security team quickly.

“As we proceed in ensuring the new administration has the leaders it needs to implement our nation’s foreign policy going forward, I have great confidence Rex Tillerson will serve the United States well,” Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by James Dalgleish