An objection from three Democratic senators will delay the U.S. Senate’s vote to confirm Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said on Friday that they oppose “a rushed confirmation” of Rep. Mike Pompeo to serve as CIA director unless senators get the opportunity to debate the nomination.
“The importance of the position of CIA Director, especially in these dangerous times, demands that the nomination be thoroughly vetted, questioned and debated,” the senators said in a statement.
The vote had been expected to happen on Friday, after the swearing-in of Donald Trump as the 45th president.
The move means Trump likely will start his presidency without his own nominee at the head of the CIA.
The senators said the CIA can protect the nation “under the leadership of its senior professional personnel” in the meantime.
“Certainly the incoming administration acknowledges that this would be consistent with their decision to hold over 50 current administration national security appointees,” the senators said. “Our constituents expect Congress to be a check and balance on the incoming administration, not a rubber stamp.”
The CIA is locked in a battle with Trump over allegations that the Russian President Vladimir Putin was behind an effort to sway the election in Trump’s favor.
“While members of the Senate give Rep. Pompeo’s nomination the careful consideration it deserves, Senator Schumer has asked Vice President Pence to keep Director Brennan on the job over the weekend,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a statement.
“Just as Director (Michael) Hayden served as a bridge between the Bush and Obama presidencies eight years ago, Director (John) Brennan could play the same role for the incoming and outgoing administrations, if the President is willing to keep him on,” House said.
Republicans are not pleased.
“Leader McConnell has made it very clear President Trump should have his national security team in place on day one,” said David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Democrats say the Senate has never confirmed a CIA director on Inauguration Day.
Wyden’s office did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Friday. But the Oregon Democrat is a strong privacy advocate and he pressed Pompeo hard during his confirmation hearing last week to explain his past support for reviving the government’s collection of metadata
“Pompeo said he’d protect Americans’ privacy, but didn’t respond to my Q about what boundaries he'd place on database of Americans’ info,” Wyden tweeted on Tuesday.
Brennan and Trump have been engaged in a bitter war of words since Jan. 11, when Trump tweeted that he believes the intelligence community was behind a leak of a once-secret dossier by a retired British spy containing unconfirmed allegations of Russian influence on the Trump campaign.
“Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump tweeted.
Brennan, ending a 30-year CIA career, with the last four years as the agency’s director, responded angrily in a television interview last Sunday, noting that 117 CIA agents have been killed in the line of service and saying that he found it “very repugnant” to cast them as akin to Nazis.
Hours later, Trump continued with the feud, blaming Brennan for what he considers a series of foreign policy disasters and suggesting that Brennan personally bore responsibility for leaking the dossier to the press. He tweeted that evening that Brennan “couldn’t do much worse — just look at Syria (red line), Crimea, Ukraine and the build-up of Russian nukes. Not good! Was this the leaker of Fake News?”
Trump is expected to visit CIA headquarters on Saturday.