Two key Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are signaling they won’t back CIA Director Mike Pompeo for secretary of state, a sign that his nomination as the top US diplomat is likely to face a rebuke by falling short of a majority on the panel.
In interviews with CNN, Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Jeanne Shaheen – who sit on the panel and backed Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA director – say they are harboring concerns with the nominee, a clear signal they may vote against him. In addition, Republican Rand Paul also told CNN that the hearing “really solidified” his opposition to Pompeo.
“I voted for him as CIA director and haven’t had cause to regret that vote,” Kaine told CNN. “But I have serious doubts about whether he’s the diplomat that we need right now.”
If all three members ultimately vote “no,” then Pompeo won’t have enough votes to win a favorable recommendation from the committee.
But in an extraordinarily rare move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could still bring up the nomination on the floor of the Senate despite the negative vote in the committee. If that would occur, Pompeo would need the support of at least one Democratic senator, given Paul’s opposition and the continued absence of Sen. John McCain, who is recovering from brain cancer. And behind the scenes, Pompeo has been working to lock down support from moderate Democrats, including ones in tough races, to push him through on the floor.
According to the Senate historian’s office, there are no instances of a secretary of state nominee receiving an unfavorable committee vote since 1925.
Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the panel, said that the White House should propose a new nominee if Pompeo falls short of the votes on the committee. But Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who supports the nominee, signaled there were procedural steps that would likely be taken to advance the nomination to the floor if it did not receive a majority in the committee.
And despite positive reviews from most Republicans about Pompeo’s Thursday appearance, several Democratic senators on the committee made clear they were likely to oppose him during the committee vote later this month.
Asked why, Kaine said: “I think this administration, maybe more than most, needs somebody with a real commitment to diplomacy as secretary of state because the President is not going to do diplomacy. … . I think Director Pompeo is an able administrator, but his statements and general perspective, I’m not sure that he’s showing this kind of instinct toward diplomacy that I think you would expect in a secretary of state.”
While Pompeo won the support of 14 Democrats and one Democrat-leaning independent when he was confirmed to the CIA last year, Shaheen made clear that was a far different judgment than the role of secretary of state.
“There are fundamental areas of disagreement that we have, and I think that was true in the questioning,” Shaheen said in an interview after the hearing. “So he answered some of those questions but from my perspective, he just gave the wrong answers.”
Asked if she still had concerns about his nomination, she said: “Correct.”