Donald Trump won.
That’s the only possible analysis of the past 24 hours when it comes to the confirmation of Mike Pompeo for secretary of state.
On Monday morning, the storyline went like this: Pompeo, the current CIA director, was very likely to be unfavorably reported out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican, joining a united front of Democrats to vote against him. In the full Senate, just one Democrat – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp – had said she would vote for Pompeo, raising questions of whether he could weather another GOP defection.
By Monday night, Paul had flip-flopped to vote for Pompeo in committee and two more Democrats – Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – had pledged to back his nomination on the Senate floor, making it a virtual certainty that the one-time Kansas congressman would be the next top US diplomat.
That’s quite a turnaround! And, it’s a rare recent tale of success for Trump when it comes to his Cabinet, which, from EPA’s Scott Pruitt to Veterans Affairs nominee Ronny Jackson, has been mired in controversy after controversy.
Trump deserves considerable credit for making this all happen.
First, after months of rumors, he jettisoned Rex Tillerson as secretary of state last month. No matter whose side you take in that debate, it was clear to everyone involved that the relationship between the two men has disintegrated badly. Because of that very public split, Tillerson wasn’t seen as having Trump’s confidence – making it very, very difficult for Tillerson to do his job.
Then Trump chose Pompeo, a close ally who had already been confirmed by the Senate as CIA director last year.
And, rather than simply attack Paul when the Kentucky Republican voiced his concerns about the hawkishness of Pompeo on national security and foreign policy matters, Trump praised Paul publicly and worked to convince him privately.
“I will say this about Rand Paul: He’s never let me down,” Trump said last week at Mar-a-Lago. “Rand Paul is a very special guy as far as I’m concerned. He’s never let me down.”
Trump also pushed Paul to meet with Pompeo to talk through his concerns. While that meeting didn’t seem to change things, Trump kept at it with Paul – understanding, rightly, that an unfavorable report out of the Foreign Relations committee could endanger Pompeo’s chances at confirmation by the full Senate.
And, then, on the verge of what looked like a mini-disaster in committee, Paul flipped.
“I just finished speaking to @realDonaldTrump, after speaking to him several times today,” he tweeted. “I also met with and spoke to Director Pompeo. After calling continuously for weeks for Director Pompeo to support President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan, today I received confirmation the Director Pompeo agrees with @realDonaldTrump.”
With that – and the announcements earlier Tuesday by Manchin and Donnelly – the storyline pivoted. It went from “Potential disaster looms for Pompeo, Trump” to “Pompeo confirmation appears to be on a glide path.”
By the end of the week, Pompeo will almost certainly be confirmed as secretary of state. Based on how this week began, that’s a massive win for Trump. And a badly needed one.