In a surprising turn of events, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky announced late Monday that he was backing off his opposition to the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State. It was a development that proved key in what turned out to be a show of support from the Foreign Relations Committee. After winning the support of two Democratic senators, Paul’s favorable vote gave Pompeo what he needed for a favorable vote.
Support of Pompeo’s nomination has been largely along party lines. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, recently indicated he believes that Democratic opposition to the nominee reflects anti-Trump sentiment, not a lack of qualifications in Pompeo. The New York Times quotes Corker as saying, “I understand the climate we are in. I understand the polarization we have as a nation.” He continued by saying that Pompeo is one of the most qualified nominees for secretary of state in history but that he believes Democrats are withholding support because of the anti-Trump sentiment among their supporters.
As reported by CNN, prior to Paul’s late-day announcement, two other Democrats had declared their support of Pompeo. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia tweeted his support on Monday morning.
After meeting with Mike Pompeo, discussing his foreign policy perspectives, & considering his distinguished time as CIA Director & his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo to be our next Secretary of State.
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) April 23, 2018
Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana followed suit.
Joe announced his support for the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be Secretary of State. READ Joe’s statement: pic.twitter.com/ASsYpX869k
— Senator Joe Donnelly (@SenDonnelly) April 23, 2018
This brought the number of Democratic senators who had announced that they would vote for Pompeo to three. North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp announced her support last week. All three are up for re-election in states that President Trump won in the 2016 election.
It’s been nearly 30 years since any cabinet nominee has moved to a full Senate vote with an unfavorable vote from the Foreign Relations Committee, but until Rand Paul changed his position, it was a real possibility. Paul has stated that he opposed Pompeo due what he perceived as his stance on the Iraq war and current U.S. presence in Afghanistan. NBC News reported that Paul had been assured that Pompeo agrees with Trump’s position on these matters and that this prompted him to change his position and vote in favor of Pompeo’s nomination.
On Monday afternoon, President Trump referred to Democrats who voted against his nominee for secretary of state as “obstructionists.” Last week he praised Rand Paul as a “very special guy” who had “never let me down.”
The New York Times reports that Senator Mitch McConnell wants to begin full chamber debate on Mike Pompeo’s nomination Wednesday followed by a vote on Friday, just before a week-long recess.