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Jon Huntsman Jr. sees 'tough go' for Tilllerson in Senate confirmation hearings


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SALT LAKE CITY — President-elect Donald Trump's choice of secretary of state faces a tough confirmation battle in the Senate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Tuesday.

Trump tabbed Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to head the State Department late Monday, passing over 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Huntsman, whose name briefly surfaced as a possible candidate. The pick sets up a potential confirmation fight with senators wary of the executive's ties to Russia.

"It's going to be a rough confirmation, but I think in the end he gets through," Huntsman told KSL Newsradio. Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, has been through three Senate confirmations.

Tillerson, who has a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, is unlike any nominee for secretary of state the country has seen, Huntsman said. Most have come from diplomacy, academia or the intelligence community, while Tillerson has worked for one company for more than 40 years.

Huntsman likened Tillerson to former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was president of Bechtel, the largest construction company in the United States, when Ronald Reagan nominated him in 1982.

Jon Huntsman Jr. on KSL Newsradio

The selection drew a lot of criticism, but Huntsman said he counts Shultz as one of the nation's best secretaries of state, in large part because of the business experience he brought to the job.

"I think Rex Tillerson is likely to bring the same types of skills and qualities," Huntsman said.

But, he said, confirmation will be a tough go because the Senate will be divided. Senators will look at Tillerson's ties to Russia and at Exxon as a corporation.

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Although his name came up as a potential secretary of state nominee, Huntsman said he and Trump never specifically talked about the job. Trump apparently considered Huntsman, who backed the billionaire businessman for president, as a running mate in the summer before going with Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.

Romney appeared to be a more serious contender for the State Department position after meeting with Trump twice.

Late Monday, Romney wrote in a Facebook post that he was honored to have been considered. He said his discussions with Trump were "enjoyable and enlightening."

"I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace," Romney wrote.

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Dennis Romboy

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