Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday that he would vote against confirming Mike Pompeo as the next secretary of state and Gina Haspel as CIA director, becoming the first GOP senator to break with President Trump over the nominees.
In opposing the nominations, Paul pointed to Pompeo’s hawkish stance on Iran, stating that he “cannot endorse [Trump’s] nomination of people who loved the Iraq War so much that they want an Iran War next.”
I have bad news for Rand Paul: Trump is the problem on Iran, not Pompeo, which makes it difficult to explain why Paul supported Trump for president. After all, Trump was crystal clear about his desire to rip up the Iran nuclear deal. (If Paul was really committed to an antiwar stance on Iran, he should have backed Hillary Clinton.)
At any rate, with only a 51-49 Republican majority, and with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only sporadically present to vote, Pompeo (and other Trump nominees) may face a tough time getting confirmed. If Paul is really a no vote, then Pompeo can afford to lose only one more Republican without finding Democratic votes.
A batch of Democrats voted to approve Pompeo’s nomination as CIA director, but they might not feel as comfortable doing so for secretary of state, absent reassurances on a number of fronts. Here is the chance for Democrats and responsible Republicans willing to take their advise-and-consent responsibilities seriously, to demand answers to hard questions, not only about Pompeo, but about Trump. Here are some to get them started:
• Do you intend to fill all open political slots, including all ambassadorships, by the end of the year? Do you have support to hire whomever you want? Are you prohibited from hiring anyone who has ever criticized the president?
• Do you favor walking away from the Iran nuclear deal? If so, what happens next. especially if our allies refuse to join us?
• Is Iran currently in compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action? Where is our policy in confronting Iran’s non-nuclear conduct? Why aren’t we pursuing those issues in concert with allies rather than alienating them by threatening to pull out of the JCPOA?
• If we pull out of the JCPOA, what effect will it have on our ability to reach any agreement with North Korea?
• North Korea’s Kim Jong Un would score a huge coup by getting on the world stage when we have no assurance that Pyongyang either stopped their nuclear program, is prepared to give it up or would allow inspectors. Why, under those circumstances, would it be advisable for Trump to meet with him? When Barack Obama, during the 2008 campaign, said he was willing to meet with Kim Jong Il, did you think that was unwise?
• Do you believe a first strike against North Korea would be justified now? Under what circumstances? What are the estimated casualties if we were to strike North Korea? Would we need a ground force to insure we had disabled its entire nuclear arsenal?
• If the president orders a first strike on North Korea with nuclear weapons, absent an imminent threat that we were about to be attacked, what would you do?
• Why have we not implemented the sanctions against Russia, North Korea and Iran that Congress overwhelmingly passed last year?
• Have you ever heard Trump criticize the international conduct of Russia? Vladimir Putin’s human rights record? That country’s meddling in our elections? Has the president suggested he is reluctant to take strong action against Russia?
• Why has Trump taken no action to protect our electoral system against tampering? What explains his reticence? Why has Trump been more critical of allies than he has of Russia?
• Does Jared Kushner have conflicts of interest when dealing with foreign governments? Will you allow him to continue as a foreign emissary, despite those conflicts and the loss of his top-secret clearance?
• What is the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy?
• Should we be praising and giving unqualified support to autocratic leaders in Turkey, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia. etc.?
• Does the president’s attack on the free press have international ramifications?
• What would be the result of a trade war with China? Of a pullout from the North American Free Trade Agreement?
• Why hasn’t Trump visited a war zone?
• Why has Trump essentially continued Obama’s policy in Syria? Have we not ceded Syria to Russia and Iran, increasing the potential for a war between Israel and Iran (or its surrogates)? What is our Syria policy?
• Does the president read materials, or must you orally present them? How long can you keep his attention focused on a single subject?
• Why does the president continue to repeat blatant untruths (e.g., our allies “owe” money to NATO; the intelligence community found that Russia didn’t influence the 2016 election; the trade deficit means we are “losing” money)? Does he not listen, or are advisers afraid to correct him? Will you correct him and provide input into his speeches to make sure he does not repeat falsehoods?
• Is the FBI out to get Trump? Is there any basis in fact for the accusation that the bureau has tainted the Russia investigation? What is your level of confidence in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III? Would you be prepared to resign if Trump fired Mueller?
• Is it appropriate for a member of a political campaign to solicit help from a foreign adversary to win an election? Would that damage our national security and sovereignty?
• If someone owed massive amounts of money to a foreign power, had undisclosed sexual affairs and/or faced personal embarrassment if his finances were revealed, would you give that person a top-secret clearance? Would such a person be a risk to national security if he or she held a job which included access to classified material?
Pompeo must demonstrate that he has a grasp of an array of issues, and that he is willing to tell Trump things he does not want to hear. He needs to explain, to be blunt, what Trump’s Putin problem is (to the extent Pompeo is able), and to provide reassurance that he can impress upon Trump the need to respond to our greatest geopolitical foe. He must assure senators that, if need be, he would resign if Trump intends either to lie to the American people or take action that would grievously harm America. And finally, he must confirm that his oath of office obligates him to inform the vice president and/or Congress if he comes to believe the president is mentally or temperamentally incapable of performing his job and upholding his oath.