WASHINGTON – A Senate panel appears increasingly likely to vote against the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state next week, but Republican leaders say they still plan to hold a full Senate confirmation vote.
“I think it’s important he get a vote on the floor of the Senate and I believe he’ll be confirmed,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, a member of the GOP leadership team and of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is considering Pompeo’s nomination.
Barrasso decried a Democratic “resistance movement” that he said seems more geared toward keeping President Donald Trump from assembling his leadership team than being directed at Pompeo, who is currently CIA director.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Republican leader, said the possibility of an unfavorable panel vote is growing, but he also said that Pompeo is likely to clear the full chamber. “I suspect he’s got the votes once he gets to the floor,” Thune said.
Pompeo won bipartisan support when he was confirmed as CIA director — with 15 Senate Democrats backing him — but he’s running into more significant resistance this time around. Many Democrats argue he’s too hawkish on U.S. policy toward Iran, North Korea and elsewhere to lead the diplomatic corps.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat on the panel who backed Pompeo for CIA chief, said on Sunday that he won’t support him for secretary of state because he believes Pompeo lacks the temperament for the job.
It’s the latest blow for the nominee after a number of other committee Democrats indicated last week they also probably won’t back him. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, another panel member, is opposing him, a significant blow since Republicans hold a one-seat majority on the committee.
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker told reporters the panel will vote on Trump’s pick early next week. Corker said he continues to hold out hope that Pompeo, a former House lawmaker, will pick up backing from at least one Democrat on the panel.
Corker said it will be up to GOP leaders to decide what to do if Pompeo can’t muster the votes at committee level.
“Conjecture is bad for your health,” he said when asked what would happen next. “Let’s see what happens in committee and then we’ll figure out where to go from there.”
It would be unprecedented for a secretary of state nominee to lack enough support on the committee.
It’s also extremely rare for a nominee to be rejected by a committee and then to go on to full Senate confirmation. The Senate Historical Office says that hasn’t happened since 2001, when Theodore Olson was confirmed as U.S. solicitor general after the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected his selection on a 9-9 vote.
With GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona absent for brain cancer treatments, Republicans have 50 votes in the Senate compared with the Democrats’ 49. With Paul’s “no” vote, Pompeo would need at least one Democrat to back him if everyone else voted.
Corker said he holds out hope that some Democrats will back Pompeo as a potentially good influence on an unpredictable president. Some Democratic panel members — including Chris Coons of Delaware and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire — haven’t taken a public stand yet, although they’ve expressed some reservations about Pompeo.
“I do understand how on the Democratic side many view this as a proxy on President Trump’s overall foreign policy, but I would hope at the end of the day some of the members would want to have a highly qualified person weighing in,” Corker said.
At his confirmation hearing last week, senators pressed Pompeo to avoid becoming a “yes man” for Trump’s foreign-policy impulses if he’s confirmed. In the hearing, the CIA director walked back past comments about Iran and North Korea that critics say proved him a hard-liner.