WASHINGTON -- After a Republican holdout changed his mind at the last minute, Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump's choice for secretary of state, avoided a rare rebuke Monday as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly recommended him along party lines.
Pompeo, who is now CIA director, received the panel's approval only after Trump's last-minute overtures to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Pompeo's nomination now goes to the full Senate, where votes are tallying in his favor and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he looks forward to voting to confirm him later this week.
Paul had vowed to oppose Pompeo, but he tweeted shortly before the vote that after speaking repeatedly to the nominee and Trump, he was convinced that Pompeo now agreed with the president that "the Iraq war was a mistake and it is time to leave Afghanistan," two of Paul's key concerns.
Trump has been quick to fire his top Cabinet secretaries, but Senate Democrats are not so fast to confirm replacements. A grilling is expected Wednesday of Ronny Jackson, the White House physician nominated to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pompeo's potential replacement at the CIA, Gina Haspel, is also facing scrutiny.
With the committee vote in doubt, Trump in a Twitter posting Monday morning lashed out at Democrats as "obstructionists" who he said are blocking his nominees. "Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State. The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people, including the Ambassador to Germany. They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!"
Paul's change of heart came after two Democrats facing challenging re-election contests this year announced that they would vote for Pompeo on the floor, seemingly clinching his nomination even if the committee did not endorse him.
Republicans hold a slim Senate majority, 50-49, with the prolonged absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is being treated for brain cancer.
The White House has been playing up Pompeo's readiness for the job, casting him as an already crucial member of Trump's foreign-policy circle who sees the president most mornings to help deliver the intelligence community's classified daily briefing.
The administration underscored that point with the disclosure last week that Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet with the country's leader, Kim Jong Un.
Pompeo's bid to become the nation's top diplomat was in the hands of a few senators but received a boost Monday when two Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced their support.
In a statement, Manchin said he thinks Pompeo "will bring a unique perspective to the State Department and is the right person to lead the department," adding that the nominee "will represent our interests well across the world and provide wise counsel to President Trump on our foreign policy."
Donnelly also voiced his support in a statement Monday afternoon, calling Pompeo "capable of advancing U.S. interests and leading the State Department."
Pressure is mounting on senators from all sides. White House allies are unloading ad campaigns against Democrats from states Trump won in the 2016 election, but progressive groups are pounding on the doors of senators' offices in opposition. As soon as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., announced her support for Pompeo, one group called on her to switch.
Together, the Democrats' support was seen as more than enough to offset the Republican votes Pompeo was at risk of losing on the floor. Paul's commitment to vote for Pompeo now makes his chances of passage all the more likely.
Ahead of the Foreign Relations Committee's vote, Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said of the full Senate, "It does appear Mike Pompeo has the votes to be secretary of state."
Supporters point to Pompeo's resume as a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate who has the president's confidence, particularly on North Korea. Opponents are focusing on his hawkish foreign policy views and negative comments about gay marriage and Muslims.
Pompeo's supporters have argued that the committee is not representative of the full Senate. Last week, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., told reporters that "the Senate will set [the panel] straight" if it refused to endorse Pompeo's nomination. Cotton also issued a threat to Democratic senators such as Manchin and Heitkamp who are facing difficult elections, noting that if they oppose Pompeo "and they're up for re-election, they may suffer the consequences."
Republican lawmakers blamed Pompeo's difficulties on political partisanship in an election year, noting that many of the Democrats who oppose him now backed his nomination last year to head the CIA. He was confirmed by a vote of 66-32.
Democrats argued that the job of America's top diplomat -- fourth in line to the presidency -- is vastly different from CIA chief. They voiced concern that Pompeo would advocate for military force, not diplomacy, and would fail to serve as a counterbalance to Trump.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, argued Monday that Pompeo was unqualified for the job.
"This suggestion that there is partisanship just because we don't support a candidate is ridiculous," Menendez said. He said Pompeo, in his confirmation hearing last week, gave contradictory answers that were not always "forthright" and exhibited a "lack of depth of knowledge" on key global hot spots.
PAUL'S CHANGE OF HEART
Paul's earlier objections to Pompeo, along with opposition from Democrats, had set the secretary of state nominee on track to be the first since 1925, when the committee started keeping records, not to receive a favorable recommendation. Nominations were not routinely submitted to the panel until the 20th century.
There's just one instance in which any Cabinet member has been confirmed after an unfavorable vote in committee -- Commerce Secretary Henry Wallace in 1945, according to the Senate Historical Office.
But Trump and Paul talked repeatedly, including a chat just moments before the vote.
"I have changed my mind," Paul said, explaining he received reassurances that Pompeo agrees with the president that the Iraq War was a "mistake" and that it is time for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan. Paul's office said he "got a win" -- the promise that Pompeo sides with Trump on those issues -- out of the situation, but declined to provide details.
"I want Trump to be Trump," Paul said.
Asked about Paul's change of heart, Trump said, "He's a good man."
Senators are trying to have Pompeo in place before international meetings scheduled for later this week and ahead of North Korea talks.
Republicans blamed partisan politics for opposition, saying Pompeo is just as qualified as past Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, both of whom received overwhelming support.
"A majority of Democrats continue their pointless obstruction to score cheap political points with their base as a willful attempt to undermine American diplomacy," said White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Colin Powell was confirmed as secretary of state by unanimous voice vote in 2001, while Clinton and Kerry cleared the Senate by votes of 94-3 and 94-2. Yet former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was confirmed on a vote of 56-43.
"At some point Democrats will have to decide whether they love their country more than they hate this president," Sanders said on Fox News on Monday.
But Democrats resisted easy confirmation of the nation's top diplomat, and support peeled.
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, who had been among more than a dozen Democrats who supported Pompeo for CIA director, announced her no vote Monday.
"I am concerned that Mr. Pompeo has not demonstrated an understanding that the secretary of state has an obligation to the American people to stand up for our core values," she said.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who was among the last Democrats on the foreign relations panel to announce his no vote, said he is concerned that Pompeo "will embolden, rather than moderate or restrain" Trump's "most belligerent and dangerous instincts."
The final vote was delayed when Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., failed to appear at the hearing, leading to a 10-10 tie along party lines. After a brief recess, Coons agreed to withdraw his vote against, so the final tally was 10-9 in favor.
Information for this article was contributed by Lisa Mascaro of The Associated Press; by Karoun Demirjian, John Wagner and John Hudson of The Washington Post; by Nick Wadhams and Laura Litvan of Bloomberg News; and by Tracy Wilkinson of Tribune News Service.
A Section on 04/24/2018
Print Headline: Pompeo nomination clears panel in Senate