Sen. Claire McCaskill opposed the confirmation of Gina Haspel Thursday as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, citing concerns about Haspel's involvement in alleged torture of detainees during the George W. Bush administration.
The Missouri Democrat said she agreed with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that Haspel should not be confirmed to head the CIA. The Senate confirmed Haspel, 54 to 45. Six Democrats backed the nomination.
McCaskill wasn't one of them. “Given the nature of the CIA’s work, the agency receives little oversight. I need to have confidence that the person running it has the instincts and judgment to make decisions in line with our country’s moral compass," McCaskill said after making her position known.
"I agree with many in the military and my friend and colleague Senator John McCain — the only United States Senator who understands torture in a way I hope no American will experience ever again — that the CIA needs a leader who is willing to take a stand when the policies don’t reflect our values.
"While I respect Ms. Haspel’s service and sacrifice, after meeting with her and reviewing classified documents, I do not think she is that person.”
McCaskill had offered no clues about how she was leaning in the days — even minutes — before the vote. She ducked her head and declined to respond on Thursday when reporters asked her about her position as she walked onto the Senate floor to cast her vote. A few minutes later she voted no on a key procedural vote. A few minutes later her office issued her written statement.
McCaskill is running for re-election in a state Republican President Donald Trump won by nearly 19 percentage points.
She told The Kansas City Star on May 9 that she wanted to review Haspel's testimony and classified information on Haspel's alleged involvement in the torture of detainees during the Bush administration before making her decision. She also planned to meet withher.
"There's valid points being made on both sides," she said at the time. "There's certainly a valid point about (torture).
"But there's also a valid point that people I respect think she's a terrific leader," the senator added, "so I mean I've gotta weigh that out. And I want to read this stuff myself, the classified stuff about the dark moment in our history when that occurred and what her role was."
The day before the vote, McCaskill told a reporter she didn't want to talk about Haspel. But after casting her no vote on Thursday she told reporters that she was disturbed by Haspel’s responses when she cross-examined her in a secure hearing room with information that is classified.
“It was very troubling to me," McCaskill said. "So I wish I could share with my constituents everything I know, but I can’t. But I am comfortable that if they knew what I knew about it and had gotten the answers I received from her in that setting, they would be very comfortable with my vote.”
The senator has served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and has been an ally of McCain, who urged his colleagues recently to reject Haspel's nomination.
McCain, who has been absent from the Senate during treatment for brain cancer, survived torture as a prisoner during the Vietnam War.
"Ms. Haspel’s role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture’s immorality is disqualifying," he said in a statement.
McCaskill's office says she's voted to confirm about 64 percent of Trump's executive nominees, including former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State of State.
It didn't matter much one way or the other how McCaskill votes on Haspel, who already had garnered more than enough support to be confirmed, said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball, the University of Virginia Center for Politics' nonpartisan newsletter that analyzes races.
"That said, as a red state Democrat, she has to approach every vote in a calculated way and as though it will matter, and I think that’s what’s going on here," Kondik said.
Brian Murphy of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.