Over the past few days, it looked as if CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s secretary of state nomination could hit the skids. We were heading for rocky shoals, as Democrats who had supported him for CIA director either were hesitant to offer support or outright said they would oppose his nomination. Pompeo was selected to replace Rex Tillerson who was fired by the Trump White House. Then, as things looked like they could derail, news dropped that Pompeo was sent on a secret diplomatic mission to North Korea and met with leader Kim Jong Un over Easter. Former Obama CIA Director Leon Panetta and former Secretary of State Colin Powell offered positive commentary about Pompeo’s nomination. Even The Washington Post editorial board warned Democrats to quit playing games and confirm him.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has said he doesn’t plan to support Pompeo. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is an unknown element at this time and John McCain is absent due to his fight with brain cancer (via The Hill):
Democrats are navigating a political minefield as they weigh their support for Mike Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of State.
With Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) opposed and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) absent, Democrats have the power to block the Cabinet nominee on the Senate floor — something they haven't been able to do since President Trump took office.
Fifteen members of the Democratic conference, including Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), supported Pompeo to be CIA director last year. But a growing number of Democrats are coming out against his nomination this time, underscoring the pressure they are under from the liberal base to take a hard line against Trump’s picks.
Of the 15 minority members who backed Pompeo for CIA director, roughly half have now said they will oppose him for the State Department. Being the country’s top diplomat, they say, is vastly different from running a spy agency.
With an already slim majority and these defections, Democratic support is needed (via Reuters):
President Donald Trump confirmed the CIA director is already deeply involved in diplomacy via a meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. But even if he is confirmed, Pompeo risked becoming the first secretary of state known to take office without the approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Pompeo needs Democratic votes to gain approval from the panel where one Republican, Senator Rand Paul, has pledged to oppose him. Paul was the only one of Trump’s fellow Republicans to vote against Pompeo’s nomination to be CIA director.
The committee includes 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Nine of the 10 Democrats have announced they oppose Pompeo. The 10th, Senator Chris Coons, is undecided.
Even with a failed committee vote, Pompeo’s nomination was still bound to come to the Senate floor for a vote. In addition, the reasons why Democrats are opposing Pompeo have little or nothing to do with the job he’s been nominated for at the State Department (via WSJ):
Senate Democrats have stalled nearly every Trump nominee in government, but their growing opposition to Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State suggests they don’t want the President to have even his top national security officials. Their new standard seems to be that any nominee who agrees with the elected President is disqualified.
“I don’t want a Secretary of State who is going to exacerbate the [sic] President Trump’s tendencies to oppose diplomacy,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine (D., Va.) told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. He cited Mr. Pompeo’s opposition to Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Tehran and his support for “regime change,” although moderator Margaret Brennan didn’t let him finish that thought.
Mr. Kaine may recall that Donald Trump campaigned and won while opposing the Iran nuclear deal, and if Mr. Kaine is still sore about the outcome he should have told his running mate to campaign in Wisconsin. As for regime change, that isn’t Mr. Trump’s policy as far as we can tell, though does Mr. Kaine think the world is better with a regime in Iran that spreads terror around the world?
California Democrat Dianne Feinstein attributes her come-lately opposition to Mr. Pompeo’s allegedly undiplomatic statements about “Muslims and the LGBT community.” She doesn't like that Mr. Pompeo supports traditional marriage. This has nothing to do with rallying allies to support a containment strategy for Iran, though it might relate to her Senate primary challenge from the left this year.
Yet, just as it would seem Democrats would endanger American national security to score a win against the Trump administration, red state Democrat Heidi Heitkamp (D-SD) announced that she would support Pompeo’s nomination. This vote, along with 49 Republicans, ensures the Pompeo’s confirmation is in the clear.
NEW: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp says she'll support Mike Pompeo's nomination, the first Democrat to do so.— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) April 19, 2018
"If he’s confirmed, I’ll hold Mr. Pompeo accountable to make sure he advances our country’s leadership in the world and supports our embassies," she says. https://t.co/sj80VN0mqe pic.twitter.com/AxOKpHhYAx
Done deal: Pompeo will be confirmed as Secretary of State now that Heidi Heitkamp becomes first red-state Dem to flip. “Pompeo demonstrated during this nomination process and during our meeting in March that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department ..”— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 19, 2018
This is of course assuming 49 Republicans vote for Pompeo, which is very likely. Expect Manchin and Donnelly to be among the Dems to defect as well— Manu Raju (@mkraju) April 19, 2018
There's also 2018 elements to consider as well. Even CNN's Dana Bash noted that it's a politically treacherous path to take opposing this nomination when you represent states where Trump won by 10+ points or more.