The State of Texas: Rex Tillerson Gets Grilled At Senate Confirmation Hearing
Plus: Texas carries out the country’s first execution of the year, Rick Perry makes moves to rid his conflicts of interest, and the ’Mad Men’ archive heads to the University of Texas at Austin.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Jesus Welcomes You to Hawkins.”
—The message on a purple and yellow sign along U.S. Route 80, made by Mark and Marie McDonald, according to the Longview News-Journal. The McDonalds, who run a church in the tiny Wood County town of Hawkins, have been in a legal battle with the city of Hawkins over whether they can keep the sign up—the latest incarnation of their war? A lawsuit filed by the McDonalds against the city, alleging discrimination by government employees who the McDonalds claim are atheists. Welcome to Hawkins!
Former ExxonMobil CEO and Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson sat through eight hours of fairly tough questioning from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. The Texan was grilled particularly hard by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who pressed Tillerson on his potential conflicts of interest related to his extensive business dealings with Russia and Vladimir Putin. Rubio took aim at Tillerson in the hearing’s opening hour, according to the Washington Post, and Tillerson yielded a few interesting responses, particularly when Tillerson was asked point blank whether he considers Putin a war criminal, and he responded no. As noted by the New York Times, Tillerson’s answers, somewhat surprisingly, showed quite a bit of independence from Trump on issues such as nuclear weapons, commitment to alliances, and Muslim immigration. He did acknowledge the existence of climate change, according to the Post, and he even admitted that “the consequences could be serious enough that action should be taken,” but in a heated exchange with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, Tillerson danced his way out of answering a few questions on whether Exxon hid its own research on climate change and (which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times). When Kaine asked, “Do you lack the knowledge to answer my question, or are you refusing to do so?” Tillerson responded, “A little bit of both.” Another moment that could cause Tillerson some trouble when it comes time for members to vote: Tillerson claimed he and Exxon “never directly lobbied against sanctions” for Russia which, as Vox notes, isn’t true. One committee member, Senator Bob Corker, even said he remembered Tillerson calling him up at the time sanctions against Russia were being debated.
MEANWHILE, IN TEXAS
Texas carried out the nation’s first execution of the year on Wednesday evening, killing a man who was convicted in a 2005 double murder near Fort Worth, according to the Texas Tribune. Christopher Wilkins, 48, had been on death row since 2008, and his execution marked the first of 2017 for Texas after executing just seven people in 2016, the lowest number of executions in twenty years. Texas’s execution slowdown mirrored a national trend, as the U.S. executed just twenty people last year, a 25-year low, according to CNN. But the Lone Star State is slated to put to death seven more people before May, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. After Wilkins confessed to killing two men over a small drug deal, he testified that he’d “been trying to get myself killed since I was 12 or 13 years old,” according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It took jurors just 90 minutes to decide on a death sentence.
Following the lead of fellow Texan Rex Tillerson, Rick Perry has distanced himself from potential conflicts of interests ahead of his confirmation hearing as President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for energy secretary. According to the Austin American-Statesman, the former governor wrote in a letter to an ethics official at the Energy Department that he had resigned from his positions as a board member for two oil companies, Energy Transfer Partners and Sunoco Logistics Partners. He also resigned from his corporate gigs at Grey Rock, an energy company founded by his son, Griffin; Celltex, a Houston-based biotech company; and MCNA Insurance Company, who paid Perry $245,837 for work as a consultant in 2016 and whose execs have been among Perry’s biggest political donors. And in a public financial disclosure report filed this week, Perry promised to sell off his holdings in energy companies, according to the Texas Tribune. Perry wrote in the letter to the Energy Department that these moves were meant “to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest.”
Mad Men Forever
The University of Texas at Austin scored a trove of archives the from hit AMC TV show Mad Men, according to the Associated Press. The trapped consciousnesses of Don Draper, Peggy Olson, Roger Sterling, and, yes, even poor, cowardly Dick Whitman, are all headed to Austin in the form of scripts, drafts, notes, props, costumes, and tons of research material that helped make the period piece drama depicting a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s. As the AP notes, it’s kinda weird for a New York-centered TV show to end up in Texas. But the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, said he knew UT’s Harry Ransom Center humanities library was the right place to lay his life’s masterpiece down in eternal rest after he visited Austin for a film festival, and saw the center’s Gone With the Wind exhibit. It’s oddly comforting to know that Draper will forever be miraculously recovering from a mid-pitch-meeting existential freak-out to somehow hawk an ad selling baking pan grease (but really, it’s an ad selling nostalgia). The donation is expected to be announced sometime today.
WHAT WE’RE READING
U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, of Tyler, doesn’t think you should know about protests Dallas Morning News
A former prison guard is under indictment for allegedly leaking a video of a prison tear gassing KTRK
Ezekiel Elliott’s been wearing a wrist band all season to support a kid with cancer Washington Post
A soccer ref was cleared after he was arrested on the field for breaking up a fight involving an off-duty cop KOSA
Galveston treasure hunters actually found some treasure Galveston Daily News