A divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favour of Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of state, paving the way for the CIA director to gain approval from the full Senate later this week and handing a victory to President Donald Trump.
The committee backed Pompeo’s nomination after Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, reversed his earlier opposition. Paul had come under pressure from fellow Republicans to ensure Pompeo didn’t become the first secretary of state nominee rejected by the committee since at least 1925.
After considerable debate over whether a missing Republican’s vote for the nomination could be recorded, the committee voted 11-9-1 along party lines, with Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware voting present to offset the proxy vote of Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson. A negative vote would have been embarrassing for both Pompeo and the White House. Paul announced his decision in a tweet just before the committee convened, saying that “today I received confirmation” that Pompeo supports “President Trump’s belief that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that it is time to leave Afghanistan.”
Democrats said they were concerned about Pompeo’s perceived hawkishness as well as comments he had made in the past that were critical of Muslims.
Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the Foreign Relations panel’s top Democrat, said that the former Tea Party congressman also has shown a “preference for military action before exhausting diplomacy.”
Some of the critics expressed concern that Pompeo would embolden what they see as Trump’s impulsive tendencies rather than moderate them, and reverse Democratic policy victories such as the nuclear deal with Iran. With a razor-thin Republican majority in the Senate and Democrats largely opposed to Pompeo’s nomination, the White House has been playing up his readiness for the job, casting him as a crucial member of Trump’s foreign-policy circle who sees him most mornings in his role of CIA chief to help deliver the intelligence community’s classified daily briefing.
That reputation was bolstered by Pompeo’s effective designation as the administration’s point person on North Korea, where he travelled over the Easter weekend to meet with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.