Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump's secretary of state pick, faced tough questioning from U.S. senators during his confirmation hearing Wednesday, declining to pledge that the incoming administration would uphold sanctions against Russia.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) forcefully pressed Tillerson to detail whether he would advise President-elect Trump to impose sanctions against Russia over its suspected hacks into U.S. political systems in an attempt to influence the 2016 election.
Tillerson, the former chief of ExxonMobil, said mandatory visa bans and asset freeze sanctions on nations that conduct cyber attacks on U.S. infrastructure should be "dealt with on a country-by-country" basis, CNBC reported.
Rubio called the response "troubling" given the implication that Tillerson would advise against sanctions in such a circumstance because of Trump's mission to improve relations with Moscow.
"Mr. Tillerson, you've engaged in significant business activities in Russia, so I'm sure you're aware that very few things of a major proportion happen in that country without Vladimir Putin's permission," Rubio said.
Tillerson agreed it was a "fair assumption" that Putin had authorized the alleged hacking campaign.
Rubio was among a group of ten bipartisan senators who on Tuesday introduced sanctions against Russia over its election-related hacks. The bill would impose "mandatory visa bans and asset freezes" on Russians involved in hacking. President Obama's recent sanctions would also be codified into law.
"Our comprehensive sanctions package being introduced today will send a clear message to Vladimir Putin that he has gone too far, and that there will be consequences for his actions," Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) said in a statement.
Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio, and Ben Sasse of Nebraska joined Rubio to cosponsor the bill. Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Dick Durbin of Illinois also cosponsored the legislation.
It is unclear how Trump would respond to the legislation should Obama sign it into law prior to his inauguration. Trump has repeatedly denied U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow was behind the election-related hacks.