The foreign affairs panel in the US senate has narrowly endorsed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, while the senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday greenlighted Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil boss whose nomination has been controversial largely because of his lack of government or diplomatic experience, and because of reported links to Russia.

The move cleared the way for a confirmation vote by the full chamber, which is controlled by Republican allies of Trump.

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The vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was 11 to 10, along party lines, setting up a period of debate and a subsequent vote on an as-yet-undetermined day.

Tillerson received a major boost when Senator Marco Rubio, one of three Republicans who had expressed doubts about him, announced he would support him despite serious reservations.

Rubio said that given "uncertainty" about the direction of US foreign policy, "it would be against our national interests to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy."

Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two other Republicans who had expressed reservations about Tillerson's dealings with Russia, gave their blessing on Sunday.

The committee's Democrats all voted against Tillerson.

Questions about Russia and Tillerson's relations with the country took centre-stage during his confirmation hearing  [Reuters]

Questions about Russia dominated his confirmation hearing earlier this month after allegations that the Kremlin meddled in the election.

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The committee endorsement of Tillerson followed a 66-32 Senate vote confirming Mike Pompeo's CIA appointment.

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Pompeo, 52, is a former Army captain who graduated first in his class from the US Military Academy at West Point. He later attended Harvard Law School and worked as an executive in the defence industry.

A staunch critic of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, he has served on the House Intelligence Committee.

Pompeo opposes closing the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay and has called for the execution of fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, whose revelations exposed massive electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency.


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Pompeo becomes only the third member of Trump's cabinet to take up his post, as the president's Republican Party has pushed hard to speed up confirmation of his nominees.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly were sworn in Friday, Inauguration Day.

Republicans were also hoping to get Trump's pick for US attorney general, Senator Jeff Sessions, installed swiftly.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Sessions on Tuesday, the same day that the Foreign Relations Committee votes on South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley's nomination to be US ambassador to the United Nations.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies