Sen. John Cornyn was one of the first Republicans Monday to openly praise Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas GOP colleague and President Donald Trump’s pick as the nation’s next head of spy operations.
Trump’s appointment of Ratcliffe as the next Director of National Intelligence on Sunday, four days after Ratcliffe led the GOP charge against former Special Counsel Robert Mueller during testimony before two House committees, has been met with strong Democratic criticism and a lukewarm reception from some Republican senators.
Cornyn’s glowing description of Ratcliffe, a former mayor of Heath, federal prosecutor and staunch defender of Trump in Congress, was in stark contrast to the comments from Democrats who called Ratcliffe too political for a position that requires providing intelligence information to members of both parties.
“I have confidence that John understands the difference between being a member of Congress and being (the Director of National Intelligence), which obviously is a nonpartisan position,” said Cornyn, a Texas Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee member.
Ratcliffe needs to be confirmed by the Republican-majority Intelligence Committee, and if approved, be confirmed by the full Senate. Ratcliffe would replace Dan Coats, a former Indiana senator, who has served in the position since March 2017.
The Director of National Intelligence’s office is a Cabinet-level position which facilitates communication between Congress and the country’s intelligence organizations. The office prepares the president’s daily intelligence briefing.
Democratic senators were quick to call Ratcliffe’s appointment a strictly political move.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a statement that Ratcliffe was appointed because of his “blind loyalty” to Trump.
“If Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position that requires intelligence expertise and non-partisanship, it would be a big mistake,” Schumer said.
Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and Intelligence Committee member, said Ratcliffe “is the most partisan and least qualified individual ever nominated to serve as Director of National Intelligence.”
Republican Senate leadership and other GOP members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were quick to release statements that praised the outgoing Coats for his apolitical approach to running the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies. But few Republicans mentioned Ratcliffe’s appointment.
In a statement released Sunday night—which made no mention of Ratcliffe’s appointment—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky lamented Coats’ coming departure. McConnell said he was always reassured that Coats’ “unbiased” approach was guiding the country’s intelligence agencies.
“The U.S. intelligence community works best when it is led by professionals who protect its work from political or analytical bias and who deliver unvarnished hard truths to political leaders in both the executive and legislative branches,” McConnell said. “Very often the news these briefings bring is unpleasant, but it is essential that we be confronted with the facts. Dan Coats was such a leader.”
Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also issued a statement that praised Coats’ work, but did not mention Ratcliffe.
Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican and Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, said in a statement that he spoke with Ratcliffe on Sunday shortly after the President announced his appointment.
“When the White House submits its official nomination to the Senate Intelligence Committee, we will work to move it swiftly through regular order,” Burr said.