Red state Democrats not sold on Pompeo for State — though they backed him for CIA

Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo leaves a meeting with Sen. Angus King, Ind,-Maine, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday.
Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo leaves a meeting with Sen. Angus King, Ind,-Maine, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. AP

President Donald Trump's choice of Mike Pompeo as his second Secretary of State needs Democratic support for confirmation — but Democrats who voted for Pompeo last year to be CIA chief are not yet ready to back him again.

With Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., opposed and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., out battling cancer, Trump needs a few Democrats to get the former Kansas congressman confirmed. The Senate has 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and two independents who caucus with Democrats.

Pompeo was confirmed as CIA director, 66 to 32, with 14 Democrats voting for him. But even four Democrats who backed Pompeo for the CIA in January 2017, and face challenging re-election contests in Trump friendly states, won't commit to voting for the nominee this time.

“I’m not going to make a judgment until I hear the testimony,” Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. said Tuesday.

McCaskill has noted that while the CIA position is narrowly-defined, the job of Secretary of State is “much broader in terms of policy considerations that are represented on behalf of our country.”

Other vulnerable Democrats running in red states said they too would wait for Pompeo’s appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday to make up their minds.

“I need to find out where he’s at in the committee before I make a decision,” said Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota.

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, stopped short of saying he’d back Pompeo, but said he was looking forward to meeting with him Tuesday night.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he’s “left it completely open,” adding, “I want to see his testimony before the committee.”

The four senators are facing voters in states that Trump won easily. He won by 19 percent points in Missouri, 19 in Indiana, 35 in North Dakota and 41 in West Virginia.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. a foreign relations committee member who voted for Pompeo for CIA director, told reporters he has “serious concerns” about the nominee’s suitability for the new position.

“I just want to understand his temperament,” Kaine said. “I don’t see a lot of evidence about diplomacy, so I want to get that,” he said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who also voted to confirm Pompeo for the CIA, said Tuesday she’s made up her mind, but declined to say how she will vote.

Liberal activists have pressured Senate Democrats to block Pompeo’s nomination, citing his support for expanding mass surveillance programs and defense of the CIA’s past use of torture. and other groups have urged members to call their senators and have held protests with moving billboards outside offices, including Feinstein's, said Ben Wikler, the group's Washington director.

"It speaks to the extremity of Pompeo's views and record that a guy who was was confirmed by 66 votes at this point is a profoundly embattled Secretary of State nominee," Wikler said.

The group plans to hold a protest at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday night ahead of Pompeo's appearance at the committee.

Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who wouldn’t say how he would vote on Pompeo, said he believes fewer Democrats will vote for Pompeo to replace Rex Tillerson, who Trump fired by Twitter last month.

“I think much of it will have to do with (Pompeo’s) response to some of the policy issues and then whether the other side of the aisle turns this into a proxy on overall Trump foreign policy,” Corker said. “There were a number of people who supported him as CIA director who may look at this a little differently because you’re actually advising the president on policy...I think some of the frustrations that Democrats have with the president might affect how they vote.”

Paul, the only Republican to vote against Pompeo for CIA director and a committee member, has pledged to do what he can to block Pompeo, citing the nominee criticism of a congressional report on the CIA’s past use of torture.

Paul said Pompeo called the senators who voted to release the report “quintessentially at odds with [their] duty to [their] country.” Paul said he “couldn’t disagree more” and said that “in the years following 9/11, we let fear get the better of our responsibility to liberty.”

Kate Irby and Lindsay Wise contributed to this report.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect vote count for Mike Pompeo’s confirmation as CIA director, which was a 66-32 split.