Pompeo at secretary of state confirmation: I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty
President Donald Trump's embattled choice for his second Secretary of State faces its first test on Monday as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a confirmation vote. But the more intense drama is likely to unfold during the week, when Mike Pompeo struggles to find the 50 votes he needs to win the job.
While Republicans control 51 Senate seats, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, is not expected to be present. With Paul opposed, that means if all other Republicans back Pompeo — and that’s not yet clear — he’d still be one short.
The foreign relations committee, which plans to vote Monday, has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Even if Pompeo gets an unfavorable recommendation from the panel, the Senate is expected to consider the nomination later in the week.
That’s why these are the key senators to watch:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. The only Republican known to be opposed to Pompeo, Paul is under pressure from Trump to reverse himself.
Trump told reporters on Wednesday he was confident that Paul won’t “let me down.” But Paul, who met Thursday with Pompeo after Trump asked them to talk, said it would take a “great deal” to change his mind, including a public declaration that Pompeo believes the Iraq War was a mistake.
Paul was the sole Republican to vote against Pompeo for CIA Director in January 2017 and he’s complicating Trump’s efforts to replace Pompeo at the CIA by opposing his replacement, Gina Haspel.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, criticized Paul for “undercutting” Trump, who crushed both Graham and Paul in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination campaign.
“I would say to Rand Paul, honor the results of the election,” Graham told Fox News. “You lost, I lost, and there's no way in hell you can say that Mike Pompeo is not qualified for this job.”
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri. McCaskill, one of the country’s most vulnerable Democrats in November, has yet to say whether she'll support Pompeo's nomination. She voted to confirm him as CIA director.
“They’re different jobs and they have a much different role," McCaskill told Missouri reporters . "One is running an agency that has a very clear definition of what its job is as it relates to national security. The other is much broader in terms of policy considerations that are represented on behalf of our country.”
McCaskill met with Pompeo on Wednesday. She is in a tough spot politically because she is running for re-election as a Democrat in a state Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points.
She’s also under pressure from liberal groups to oppose Pompeo, and a vote for him could anger her base. Many see Pompeo as Islamophobic and hawkish and have criticized his record on gay rights and torture.
Supporting Pompeo, however, could bolster McCaskill credentials as a centrist and head off attack ads from Republicans who would accuse her of obstructing Trump's agenda.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona. A member of the foreign relations committee, he has not yet said how he plans to vote, telling reporters he wants to speak again with Pompeo before deciding.
Flake this week temporarily withheld support for another Trump nominee, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, because he wanted to talk with Pompeo about trade and travel restrictions to Cuba, according to Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. Flake would only tell reporters he wanted to talk to Pompeo “on a number of issues.”
Flake, a frequent Trump critic who is not seeking re-election, supported former President Barack Obama’s efforts to reestablish ties with Cuba, which Trump has sought to roll back.
"My goal has always been the same, of closer ties, more travel, more commerce because I think that moves Cuba closer to democracy, so I'll use any leverage I can to try to bring that about," Flake said.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware. Coons was the last Democrat on the committee to announce his opposition, and his views could help sway others.
“While I respect his background of military and public service and am encouraged by his stated commitment to our diplomatic corps, I remain concerned that Director Pompeo will embolden, rather than moderate or restrain, President Trump’s most belligerent and dangerous instincts,” Coons said in a statement Friday.
He did have some praise for Pompeo, saying he would be “a strong advocate for the career professionals of the State Department and that he would repair some of the damage that vacancies and budget uncertainties have created over the past eighteen months.”
The nominee, Coons added, “is also knowledgeable and clear-eyed about the diplomatic and security challenges we face around the world.”
Coons, who voted against Pompeo as CIA Director, quizzed Pompeo at the confirmation hearing on whether he’d resign as Secretary of State in protest if Trump fired special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia. Manchin said Monday he’ll vote for Pompeo, a sign that other red-state Democrats could be falling in line. He’s the second Democrat to voice support, after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Monday, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., also announced his support..
Manchin had voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA Director. And the senator is up for re-election in a red-leaning state that Trump won easily in 2016.
Manchin announced his decision Monday in a tweet.
“After meeting with Mike Pompeo, discussing his foreign policy perspectives, & considering his distinguished time as CIA Director & his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo to be our next Secretary of State,” he said.
After his April 17 meeting with Pompeo, the senator told reporters “we've had good conversations and are going to have some more." Before Pompeo testified, Manchin had said he’d “left it completely open,” adding he wanted to see how Pompeo fared during the grilling.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., insisted the Senate would confirm Pompeo, regardless of the committee vote Monday.
“Senator Paul has unusual foreign policy views that are not representative of the Republican Senate caucus,” Cotton told reporters on a White House call. “That is another example of why the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is not representative of the Senate as a whole.”
Manchin was one of three Democrats that Cotton singled out that call as likely Pompeo supporters.
“I cannot imagine that senators like Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, who are facing re-election in states that our president won by landslide elections are going to oppose an obviously qualified nominee for whom they voted last year,” he said.
Alex Daugherty and Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.
Update: This story has been updated after Senator Coons went from undecided to a “no” on Pompeo Friday evening and after Senators Manchin and Donnelly went from undecided to a “yes” on Monday.