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Mounting opposition to Pompeo makes positive Senate committee vote unlikely

Secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on April 12 . (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The two Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who last year backed Mike Pompeo as CIA director have publicly refused to support his nomination to be secretary of state, making it highly unlikely that he will have the panel’s endorsement when the full Senate votes on his nomination.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA director, said in a statement Tuesday evening that she could not do the same for his bid to be top diplomat, citing concerns with Pompeo’s positions on gay rights, Muslim Americans and women’s reproductive rights.

“His previous roles are fundamentally different from that of Secretary of State, who represents American values around the world,” Shaheen said in the statement. “The Secretary of State is a policymaking position and I continue to have deep concerns regarding Mr. Pompeo’s past statements and policy views.”

Shaheen joined Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who also backed Pompeo as CIA director, but announced his opposition to Pompeo’s secretary of state bid over the weekend, complaining that Pompeo “would exacerbate President Trump’s weaknesses rather than uphold our diplomatic legacy” — particularly when it came to the use of force in approaching Iran.

Their decisions are not likely to kill Pompeo’s ultimate chances of being confirmed, as the committee can still send Pompeo’s nomination to the Senate floor for a vote with an unfavorable recommendation if only a minority of panel members support his bid. But they increase the potential that he would be the first secretary of state in almost a century to fail to gain a favorable committee recommendation before advancing to the floor.

That potential scenario has haunted Pompeo’s nomination since the day after it was announced, when Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), a Republican member of the panel, formally stated his opposition to Pompeo’s bid. Paul’s announcement made it necessary for Pompeo to win over at least one Democrat on the 21-member foreign relations panel — which is split between 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats — to secure a favorable recommendation.

Pompeo was grilled last week by every Democratic member of the committee, as well as Paul, during his 5½-hour confirmation hearing last week, with many of those senators questioning whether he would stand up to the president on matters such as ripping up the Iran deal or launching talks with North Korea — or whether he would simply approve the president’s predelictions to stay in his good graces.

Pompeo grilled about his closeness to Trump at confirmation hearing

“My sense of his answers is that he won’t challenge the president, that he’ll be someone who will ultimately execute what the president wants, even if he is in disagreement,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the committee, said after the hearing. Menendez has not yet announced how he will vote, though he did not back Pompeo as CIA director.

Panel Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) appeared to be planning for the possibility that Pompeo might not receive the support of a majority of the committee. Following Pompeo’s confirmation hearing last week, he told reporters that “there are procedures, whatever occurs, for there to be a floor vote.” The panel is expected to vote on Pompeo’s nomination next week.

In the meantime, other high-profile Democrats who backed Pompeo for CIA director are also publicly rejecting his candidacy to lead the State Department.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), a senior member of the Intelligence Committee and ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that she could not back Pompeo’s nomination because “the Secretary of State is a very different role than CIA director, and it’s not the kind of position you learn on the job.”

“I sense a certain disdain for diplomacy in Mike Pompeo that I believe disqualifies him from being our next senior diplomat,” Feinstein concluded.

But not every Democrat who supported Pompeo last year is fleeing from him now. Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) said on Tuesday that he had a meeting with Pompeo earlier in the day, and the meeting had gone well.

Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.

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