3 topics you can expect Rex Tillerson to get grilled on during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state

The Senate confirmation hearing for President-elect Donald Trump's secretary of state pick is set for Wednesday, and the former Exxon Mobil CEO might be due for a tough battle.

While Rex Tillerson is likely to be confirmed as the next secretary of state, he'll face tough questioning from senators.

We've taken a look at the three major areas of concern Tillerson is likely to be grilled on during his hearing.

Related: Rex Tillerson through the years

Rex Tillerson through his career
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Rex Tillerson through his career

Exxon Mobil Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson speaks at a news conference following the Exxon Mobil annual shareholders meeting in Dallas, Texas May 30, 2007. Tillerson told reporters on Wednesday that the construction of the Mackenzie pipeline project in Canada was not viable at current cost levels.

(REUTERS/Mike Stone)

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) and Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson look on at a signing ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi August 30, 2011. Exxon and Russia's Rosneft signed a deal on Tuesday to develop oil and gas reserves in the Russian Arctic, opening up one of the last unconquered drilling frontiers to the global industry No.1.

(REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool)

Executives from six major oil companies are sworn in to testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the "Consolidation in the Oil and Gas Industry: Raising Prices?" on Capitol Hill in Washington March 14, 2006. The executives are (L-R) Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Corp., James Mulva, Chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips, David O'Reilly, Chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp., Bill Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy Corp., John Hofmeister, President of Shell Oil Company and Ross Pillari, President and CEO of BP America Inc.

(Jason Reed / Reuters)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

Chairman, President and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex Tillerson watches a tee shot on the 13th hole during the first round of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament at the Monterey Peninsula Country Club course in Pebble Beach, California, February 6, 2014.

(REUTERS/Michael Fiala)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil; John Watson, chairman and CEO of Chevron Corp.; James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; Marvin Odum, president of Shell Oil Co.; and Lamar McKay, president and chairman of BP America Inc.; are sworn in during the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing on their safety practices as oil continues to leak into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig - operated by BP - exploded last month.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson speaks during the IHS CERAWeek 2015 energy conference in Houston, Texas April 21, 2015.

(REUTERS/Daniel Kramer/File Photo)

WASHINGTON, DC - May 12: James Mulva, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips; and Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp.; during the Senate Finance hearing on oil and gas tax incentives.

(Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)

Chairman and CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation Rex W. Tillerson and Norway Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg attends the United Nations Foundation's global leadership dinner at The Pierre Hotel on November 8, 2011 in New York City.

(Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., left, speaks with Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates Inc., during the 2015 IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. CERAWeek 2015, in its 34th year, will provide new insights and critically-important dialogue with decision-makers in the oil and gas, electric power, coal, renewables, and nuclear sectors from around the world.

(Photographer: F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Renda St. Clair and Rex Tillerson attend the reopening celebration at Ford's Theatre on February 11, 2009 in Washington, DC.

(Photo by Abby Brack/Getty Images)

Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, listens during a meeting at the Department of the Interior September 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. Secretary of the Interior Kenneth L. Salazar hosted Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Gulf Oil Spill National Incident Commander Adm. Thad Allen (Ret.), representatives from the private sector and others to discus strengthening the containment abilities to deep water oil and gas well blowouts like the recent BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

(Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bids farewell to Chad's Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif as he departs N'Djamena, Chad, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tours an anti-poaching forensic lab at the Kenya Wildlife Service in Nairobi, Kenya, March 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh at the Presidential Palace in Djibouti, March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boards his plane to depart Addis Ababa International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gestures during a news conference at the governmental palace in Beirut, Lebanon, February 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson look at a picture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, as they arrive to a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Cem Ozdel/Pool

Russia ties

Tillerson's ties to Russia go back nearly two decades. Tillerson first met Vladimir Putin in 1999, according to Bloomberg, when he first represented Exxon's interests in Russia while it was under Boris Yeltsin's leadership.

And he has also worked with Rosneft, a major Russian state-run corporation, since the 1990s.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told NPR that he expects questions about Tillerson's ties to Russia during his conformation hearing.

"He did business with Russia. He was able to get things done there," Cardin said. "And those relationships will be subject to questioning during the confirmation hearings."

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But Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee who is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told NPR that Tillerson's views on Russia "are not, in any way, out of the mainstream."

Geopolitical expert and Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer also speculated that Tillerson's ties to Russia might not be a bad thing.

"He's a strong executive," Bremmer wrote last month. "He has a better relationship with Putin than anyone else Trump could have chosen, and before we dismiss that as a bad thing, we should consider the benefits of better communications with a guy that has a demonstrated ability to make all kinds of trouble for Washington."

rex tillerson vladimir putinAssociated Press/LM Otero

And several sources familiar with Tillerson's meetings with senators told CNN that Tillerson acknowledged the need to get tough on Russia.

"He indicated that he knew what Putin was about and that you need to deal with Russia from a position of strength," one staffer told CNN. "He framed his relationship with Putin as one where he felt he could talk to him frankly and that he was prepared to do that."

But other senators are more skeptical.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans, have publicly expressed concerns about Tillerson's past dealings with the Kremlin.

McCain said recently that he still has concerns about Tillerson even after having a meeting with him. And Graham said on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that Tillerson has "to convince me, and I think other members of the body, that he sees Russia as a disruptive force."

Trump cozied up to Russia during his campaign for president, and some critics have expressed concern about his reluctance to admit the Kremlin's role in hacking that was aimed at interfering in the presidential election.

rex tillerson vladimir putin exxon russiaAssociated Press/LM Otero

Business dealings

Tillerson has moved to cut his financial ties to Exxon and stepped down from his position as CEO on Jan. 1, but some have still called into question how his business dealings would shape his views if he's confirmed as secretary of state.

Several of Exxon's projects in Russia — worth tens of billions of dollars — have been put on hold because of sanctions the US has imposed on the country, according to The New York Times.

The US increased sanctions on Russia after the country annexed Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine.

Former Exxon board member William W. George told The Wall Street Journal that Tillerson opposed the additional sanctions at the time.

"As secretary of state, he would be called upon to negotiate with world leaders like Vladimir Putin," Michael T. Klare, a professor at Hampshire College and the author of "The Race for What's Left," a book about the rush for oil in the thawing Arctic, told The Times.

"In these negotiations, one has to wonder what would influence the types of deals he is making," he added. "Questions arise over whether his actions would be benefiting his company or the interests of the United States and its allies."

Tillerson told senators in his meeting with them that sanctions could be a useful tool, according to CNN. But he didn't express support for any sanctions in particular.

CNN also reported that Senate aides are reviewing Exxon's plan to pay out Tillerson's holdings in the company. Exxon's plan will give him about $180 million to put into a blind trust.

Rex TillersonAssociated Press/LM Otero

Lack of government experience

If Tillerson is confirmed, he'd be the first secretary of state with no experience in the public sector.

The media was quick to note after Trump nominated Tillerson that he lacked government experience.

CNN observed that Tillerson "will have to explain why his own lack of formal foreign policy experience is not a disqualifying feature of his resume."

But others have pointed out that he traveled the world and negotiated with foreign heads of state during his time at Exxon.

One former Exxon employee who's now at the Brookings Institution made the case for Tillerson as secretary of state.

"A lot of the negative/shocked reactions to Rex Tillerson as SecState seem to come from people w/limited understanding of private sector," Suzanne Maloney wrote on Twitter last month. "Presumption that Tillerson must be a pro-Putin ideologue bc he / [Exxon] did business successfully in Putin's Russia is simplistic & patronizing."

She continued: "Oil folks know stuff: anyone who manages multi-billion dollar, multi-decade projects needs deep, nuanced understanding of political context. In this sense Tillerson's business experience gives him very different lens than other execs in Trump cabinet — & very relevant for diplomacy."

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