Congress

Pompeo CIA confirmation vote: A preview of the 2020 presidential debate

Mike Pompeo sworn in as CIA director

Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was sworn in as CIA director, just an hour after the Senate confirmed him. Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office.
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Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo was sworn in as CIA director, just an hour after the Senate confirmed him. Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath of office.

Monday night’s Senate vote on Kansas Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo as CIA director was a preview of the battle – and the views of some key players – concerning privacy issues likely to erupt in the 2020 presidential campaign.

Pompeo was confirmed, 66 to 32. But the vote was probably the first chapter in a debate that’s going to endure. It involved Democrats – and one Republican – who voted no on Pompeo and are likely to remind voters of the stand they took in the next presidential election.

The dissenters have been building the case almost since the day President Donald Trump nominated Pompeo in November.

In his confirmation hearing earlier this month, some Democrats loudly, angrily recalled Pompeo’s past statements backing a resurrection and expansion of the controversial National Security Agency data-collection program. He was asked repeatedly about his previous defense of CIA’s harsh interrogation practices of terrorism suspects, including waterboarding, which some consider to be torture.

While Pompeo insisted that his previous political positions would have no bearing on his new responsibilities at the CIA, and committed to safeguarding the privacy of Americans and the constitutional rights of detainees, that wasn’t enough assurance for some.

The no votes were a gallery of would-be 2020 White House hopefuls: Some, like Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, had run for president in 2016. Sanders ran as a Democrat. Thirty Democrats voted no.

The no votes were a gallery of would-be 2020 White House hopefuls: Some, like Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, had run for president in 2016.

Others represented a new generation of Democrats at the core of its progressive wing: California’s Kamala Harris, New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren.

“I worry that his approach to this job could threaten the Constitutional rights of Americans, hinder the collection of valuable intelligence, and undermine our national security,” Booker said in a statement.

Privacy issues were prominent in last year’s campaign. Paul, who represents a more libertarian wing of the Republican Party but didn’t get past February in last year’s Republican primary, wanted to hear more about torture policy.

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, testified on Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Pompeo lists an aggressive Russia as one of the multiple challenges fa

“He’s going to have to also answer to my liking whether or not he’s still for torture, whether or not he’s for waterboarding,” Paul told CBS News in November. “That’s important.”

Paul was the only Republican to vote against Pompeo and the first Republican to oppose the confirmation of a Trump nominee so far.

Paul was the only Republican to vote against Pompeo and the first Republican to oppose the confirmation of a Trump nominee so far. He was in the same company as Sanders.

“We must be vigorous in fighting terrorism,” he tweeted on Monday before the vote, “but we can do it in a way that is constitutional and respects our freedom and privacy rights.”

At 9 p.m. Monday, Vice President Mike Pence administered the oath to Pompeo at his ceremonial office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

“The president and I are confident in your abilities and know you will rise to the challenge to lead the Central Intelligence Agency,” Pence said.

But the many “no” votes against his confirmation may signal bigger battles to come.

In his confirmation hearing, Harris asked Pompeo to explain whether he considered climate change a national security threat given his past skepticism of the science behind it.

Pompeo told Harris that he was an engineer by training and that “facts and data matter.”

Harris, a former California attorney general, also asked Pompeo how he’d treat lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees at the agency, “some of whom have, of course, taken great risk to their lives for our country.”

“You have my assurance that every employee will be treated in a way that is appropriate and equal,” Pompeo responded.

In the end, Harris voted no, citing concerns with torture and surveillance.

“Congressman Pompeo’s record on issues such as torture, surveillance, and the collection and use of metadata, that are of core importance to me, and to Californians, are inconsistent with American national security interests and values,” she said in a statement. “Taking those factors into consideration, I cannot support the nominee.”

Lindsay Wise and Anita Kumar of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed to this story

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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