Senate Panel Approves Pompeo for Secretary of State

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 11-9 Monday in favor of naming Mike Pompeo secretary of state, meaning the former CIA director will be thrust into the Senate for a full confirmation later this week.

Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky changed his mind in favor of Pompeo at the last minute during a committee vote Monday night.

“We’ve been at war for too long at too many places. We have to understand that regime change has made things worse. I’ve been opposed to this nomination. To me the most important event in foreign policy has been the Iraq War,” Paul said.

However, Paul said he believed Pompeo understood and would enforce the president’s goal of “getting us out of these areas.”

“I want Trump to be Trump and I don’t want those around him to try to persuade him that perpetual war is the answer to things,” Paul said. “I want people to understand and I hope the director will understand this. [Pompeo] does understand the Iraq War was a mistake. That’s what I’m hearing. I’m hearing that from the president too.”

Initially the vote was 11-10 but rules around voting by proxy halted the committee’s actions temporarily. Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia was absent during Monday’s vote, as he was in his home state delivering a eulogy.

Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., asked at least one Democratic senator to vote yes so the nomination could proceed to the full Senate floor with a positive record.

After a brief recess, Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., agreed to vote “present” in Isakson’s absence, making the final vote 11-9.

Pompeo’s nomination was contested by all Democratic lawmakers on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Ben Cardin, D-Md., commended Pompeo’s intelligence experience, but said it was his “lack of diplomacy” that he found jarring.

“Diplomacy must always be at the fore of his mind but he gives answers [during his congressional testimony] that are anything but putting diplomacy first,” Cardin said. “How he could prefer that the U.S. pull out of Iran [nuclear] agreement when Europeans disagree with our decision?  If we have the support of Europe, it’s a different story. But he made it very clear that it would be okay to pull out of agreement.”

There is also the Paris climate accord, Cardin said, noting that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was at least “open” to participating in the climate talks.

But Pompeo told lawmakers he agreed with the president’s decision to withdraw from the agreement, Cardin lamented.

Senators Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, also criticized Pompeo, saying he was too deeply embedded in the fossil-fuel industry to be considered seriously. Pompeo reportedly accepted nearly $1.5 million in contributions from fossil-fuel companies for congressional campaigns between 2009 and 2017.

Pompeo’s history of controversial positions or statements about the LGBT community and Muslim leaders were also a sticking point for Democratic lawmakers like Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey.

“This suggestion that there is partisanship simply because you don’t support a nominee is ridiculous,” Menendez said. “I believe strongly the Congress plays a vital role on the check and balance of any executive branch and I believe that regardless of who is sitting in the White House.”

But at the end of the day, Menendez said, as he considered the nomination, he was unable to find a “satisfactory answer to the question: which Mike Pompeo am I voting on?”

“Will he simply be a yes man? When the president blames Russia’s behavior on democrats, will Pompeo remind him that Russia’s aggressive behavior is about Russia? When the president wants to call Mexicans drug traffickers and rapists, would Mr. Pompeo advise him not to or would he, who once called someone a ‘turban topper,’ prevail?” Menendez asked.

Pompeo, when running for a congressional seat in Kansas, promoted an article on Twitter in which the author called his opponent a “turban topper.” Pompeo later apologized for the incident.

Menendez also questioned Pompeo’s history of sponsoring legislation rolling back marriage equality as well as his vote against the Violence Against Women Act.

“I know we’ve all said things we wish we didn’t say, but he didn’t retract the statements he made about Muslim leaders and I find this to be very troublesome in trying to have the next secretary of state that will be representing our country,” Cardin said.

It is likely Pompeo will sail through the Senate, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Previous nominees for secretary of state like John Kerry received overwhelming support from the committee and full Senate. Kerry received unanimous support from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee before being voted in 94-3 in the full body.

The committee voted in favor of Hillary Clinton 16-1; the full Senate approved her confirmation 94-2.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was voted 85-13 by the Senate after passing through the committee in a 16-2 vote.  Before that, both the committee and full Senate voted unanimously in favor of Colin Powell’s nomination in the George W. Bush administration.

“No one could make the argument [Pompeo] isn’t intellectually qualified. He graduated top of his class at West Point, went to Harvard, he was successful in business and served in Congress,” said Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

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