Pompeo faces unprecedented Senate opposition for top US diplomat spot
Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of state, CIA director Mike Pompeo, is facing stiff opposition to his becoming the nation’s top diplomat – and it may be unprecedented.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to vote on Pompeo’s nomination on Monday and right now it’s not clear if he has the votes to receive a positive recommendation.
If the Senate panel rejects Pompeo’s nomination – and it’s looking increasingly likely that it will – it would be a first.
Never before in at least a century has a secretary of state nominee received an unfavorable recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee, according to information provided by the Senate Historical Office.
“We have found no case of a Secretary of State nominee receiving other than a favorable report by the Committee on Foreign Relations,” the Historical Office confirmed in an e-mail.
Pompeo will still get a vote before the full Senate even with an unfavorable recommendation.
But with many Democrats who just last year voted to confirm him as CIA director now publicly opposing him as the next secretary of state, Pompeo’s confirmation is on a razor’s edge.
Just how unprecedented is this scenario? The last time any cabinet-level nominee who was reported unfavorably by a committee but went on to be confirmed by the full Senate was 73 years ago when Henry Wallace was confirmed to be the Secretary of Commerce on March 1, 1945.
Here’s the math on the Senate panel vote
Republicans on the 21-member panel hold a slim one-seat majority over Democrats.
So far, every single Democrat in the committee has announced their opposition to Pompeo, with the exception of Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, who, as of Thursday afternoon was still “leaning against” his nomination. Coons also opposed Pompeo’s nomination to be director of the CIA last year.
Despite the Democrats’ opposition, Republicans could squeak out a favorable recommendation for Pompeo were it not for Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
Paul has adamantly refused to support Trump’s nominee due to his objections to some of Pompeo’s foreign policy positions.
And Pompeo fared no better after meeting with Paul in person on Thursday. After the meeting, Paul reiterated that he was still a ‘no’ on Pompeo despite the president saying Wednesday of Paul: “He’s never let me down.”
Why does this vote matter?
It is very unusual for a secretary of state nominee to face such opposition.
Past secretaries of state, including Condoleezza Rice, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton have breezed through their respective confirmations.
“I realize we’re in an atmosphere now where that is just not going to be the case,” Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee said Thursday on the Senate floor. “I realize my Democratic friends in many cases feel like that in supporting Pompeo, it’s a proxy for support of the Trump administration policies, which many of them abhor. I understand that.”
“I hope that the members on the other side of the aisle that have not yet said how they are going to vote will think about the circumstances that we’re in today and feel like that they can support a highly qualified Secretary of State…,” Corker went on.
Last year, Pompeo had little trouble clinching the confirmation to be the director of the CIA. He received a favorable recommendation from the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and he was confirmed by the full Senate in a 66-32 vote.
At the time, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Tim Kaine of Virginia – both Democrats who sit on the Foreign Relations panel – voted in favor of his nomination. This time around, they’re voting no.
What happens after the panel vote?
Even if Pompeo receives an unfavorable recommendation, it’s not game over for him.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can still bring his nomination to the floor for a vote before the full Senate, where Republicans have a one-seat advantage over Democrats.
However, with Paul opposing the nomination and GOP Sen. John McCain, battling brain cancer at home in Arizona, Republicans, it seems, would need at least one Democrat to vote with them in order to secure Pompeo’s confirmation.
On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, a vulnerable Democrat facing an uphill Midterm election battle, announced she will vote to confirm Pompeo.
In a statement, Heitkamp said Pompeo “demonstrated during this nomination process and during our meeting in March that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests.”
As long as no other Republican defects, and with Heitkamp’s vote secured, Pompeo could become the next head of the State Department.
Last year, the votes against Rex Tillerson, 56-43, made Senate history when he was confirmed as secretary of state.
It’s possible Pompeo will beat that record.
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