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Senate Panel Poised to Vote Against Backing Pompeo Nomination

Senate Panel Poised to Vote Against Backing Pompeo Nomination

WASHINGTON—A Senate committee is on track to vote Monday against endorsing the nomination of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state, which would mark an unusual rebuke to a central member of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy team.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to vote on Mr. Pompeo’s nomination on Monday evening. All of the panel’s Democrats have said they would oppose the former congressman’s nomination, and they have been joined by one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

That gives Mr. Pompeo’s opponents a majority on the committee, which is composed of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Under Senate procedures, the nomination can still be brought to the chamber’s floor, where the math is more favorable for Mr. Pompeo and most senators believe he is likely be confirmed. Still, Mr. Pompeo would be the only secretary of state in modern history to be confirmed by the full Senate without winning a committee endorsement.

One Democrat who is not on the foreign relations panel, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, has said she would support Mr. Pompeo, and she could be joined by other red-state Democrats, especially those facing re-election this year.

Mr. Pompeo would replace former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had a difficult relationship with the White House and with his own department.

Some Republicans on Sunday criticized the committee’s Democrats for opposing Mr. Pompeo’s nomination, accusing them of taking a partisan approach to foreign policy. Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Mr. Pompeo “highly qualified” and said, “It’s just sad that our nation has devolved politically to this point.”

“Under ordinary times, he would be confirmed overwhelmingly,“ Mr. Corker said on CNN’s State of the Union. ”We just live in a very partisan environment.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Mr. Pompeo ‘highly qualified.’ Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, criticized what he said was Democrats’ “shameful political behavior.”

More than 25 Democrats have said they oppose Mr. Pompeo, including five who voted in January 2017 for him to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Several have said that the qualifications for being CIA director are different from those for secretary of state, and have raised concerns about whether Mr. Pompeo’s hawkish stances would hinder his ability to conduct diplomacy.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), who opposes Mr. Pompeo’s nomination, said on CBS that the CIA director’s past statements were “a bit of a put-off for me.”

Still, she mentioned Mr. Pompeo’s role in the current negotiations with North Korea over the terms of a planned meeting later this spring between Mr. Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Mr. Pompeo traveled to North Korea recently to meet with Mr. Kim.

“I think it’s very important that if the president goes, that the meeting between Kim Jong Un and our president goes well,” Ms. Feinstein said.

Once Mr. Pompeo’s nomination is brought to the Senate floor, Republicans in the administration and on Capitol Hill expect him to win the support of a handful of Democrats up for reelection in November in states won by Mr. Trump. They don’t expect any other GOP defections besides Mr. Paul.

Republicans hold a 51-49 majority in the Senate, and one GOP senator, John McCain of Arizona, is at home receiving cancer treatment.

The level of opposition to Mr. Pompeo breaks a longstanding tradition of confirming nominees to national security positions with bipartisan majorities, especially at the State Department. Both of President Barack Obama’s secretary of state nominees, former Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, earned 94 votes in the 100-member Senate.

During the height of the much-debated Iraq war, Condoleezza Rice, nominated by President George W. Bush, was confirmed by the Senate in an 85-13 vote.

Also Sunday, Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif in a CBS interview questioned Mr. Pompeo’s nomination.

“Every indication that the United States is sending—appointments, statements—indicates to us and the international community that the United States is not serious about its international obligations,” Mr. Zarif said.

Asked if he could work with Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Zarif said, “The requirement for any international engagement is mutual respect. We would have to wait and see.” He added, “The indications that we have seen up until now [have] not been very encouraging.”

Mr. Pompeo, who as a member of the U.S. House was a top critic of the landmark nuclear deal the U.S. and five other world powers struck with Iran in 2015, has since said he would work to “fix” the deal.

Mr. Pompeo’s nomination comes as Democrats have expressed alarm about Mr. Trump’s policies in Iran, North Korea and Syria, and questioned the judgment of new national security adviser John Bolton, who has been an advocate for U.S. military action.

—Byron Tau
and William Mauldin contributed to this article.

Write to Rebecca Ballhaus at

Appeared in the April 23, 2018, print edition as ‘Pompeo Set for Rebuke by Panel.’

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