Rex Tillerson has been narrowly approved as secretary of state, despite concerns about his business ties to Russia.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee split along party lines, with all 11 Republicans voting in favor and all 10 Democrats against. A full vote will now be held in the Republican-run Senate.
The move capped a busy day for Donald Trump’s administration.
Most notable was the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), fulfilling a campaign pledge.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order to pull out from the 12-nation trade deal that had been a linchpin of former President Barack Obama’s Asia policy.
He said: “Great thing for the American worker what we just did.”
Also on January 23, the Senate confirmed Mike Pompeo as Donald Trump’s CIA director.
Mike Pompeo’s immediate task, correspondents say, will be to establish an effective relationship between the spy agency and Donald Trump.
Donald Trump has been critical of the CIA for concluding that Russia had been actively working to influence the US presidential election in his favor.
In another development, new US Defense Secretary James Mattis said Washington had an “unshakeable commitment” to NATO, despite Donald Trump’s earlier description of the military alliance as “obsolete”.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved Rex Tillerson after leading Republican Senator Marco Rubio dropped his opposition.
Marco Rubio sparred with Rex Tillerson during confirmation hearings earlier this month, accusing him of being soft on Russia.
The 64-year-old former head of Exxon Mobil knows Russian President Vladimir Putin through his business dealings.
However, Rex Tillerson has criticized Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula in 2014.
Marco Rubio said that although he had doubts over the choice, he believed a new president was entitled to deference in assembling his cabinet.
“Despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson’s nomination in committee and in the full Senate,” said Marco Rubio.
He had challenged Rex Tillerson over his refusal to call President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” over Russia’s air strikes in Syria and his failure to condemn strongly enough human rights violations in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.
Marco Rubio was among the candidates who fought Donald Trump in the battle for the Republican presidential ticket.
The partisan split in the voting is unusual. Traditionally, nominees for secretary of state have been approved by overwhelming votes from both parties.
Senator Ben Cardin, the committee’s top Democrat, had said he would not vote for Rex Tillerson, also over his position on Russia as well as other issues.
He also suggested that Rex Tillerson’s “business orientation” could “compromise his ability as secretary of state to forcefully promote the values and ideals that have defined” America.
While critics raise concern about Rex Tillerson’s ability to trade in his corporate interest for a national one, some supporters suggest the former CEO’s background as a global dealmaker may bring fresh perspective to the nation’s top diplomatic post.
At a closed doors meeting on January 23, Donald Trump told congressional leaders he would have won the popular vote in the election if millions of undocumented immigrants had not voted illegally. He gave no evidence for the claim.
Hillary Clinton won nearly three million votes more than Donald Trump, who got more support in key swing states and won the Electoral College.
However, any notion of widespread voter fraud was widely rejected as untrue when Donald Trump made the same claim in November.