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United States

Mike Pompeo’s nomination as Trump’s secretary of state narrowly clears panel, goes to full US Senate

Trump’s overtures to Rand Paul helped clear the way for Pompeo, who is likely to be endorsed by the full Senate

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 10:18am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 10:51pm

Mike Pompeo, US President Donald Trump’s choice for secretary of state, avoided a rare rebuke Monday as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly recommended him, but the vote served as a warning shot to the White House as nominees to lead the CIA and Veterans Affairs are hitting stiff resistance.

Pompeo, who’s now CIA director, received the panel’s approval only after Trump’s last-minute overtures to Senator Rand Paul. Pompeo’s nomination now goes to the full Senate, where votes are tallying in his favour and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he looks forward to voting to confirm him later this week.

Trump has been quick to fire his top cabinet secretaries, but Senate Democrats are not so fast to confirm replacements. A grilling is expected Wednesday of Ronny Jackson, the White House physician nominated to head Veterans’ Affairs, and Pompeo’s potential replacement at the CIA, Gina Haspel, is also facing scrutiny.

It’s also a reminder of how tough it could be to replace Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Trump has publicly mused about firing Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Hard to believe,” Trump tweeted Monday about what he called “obstruction”. “The Dems will not approve hundreds of good people … They are maxing out the time on approval process for all, never happened before. Need more Republicans!”

Republicans hold just a slim Senate majority, 50-49, with the prolonged absence of Republican Senator John McCain, who has cancer.

Pompeo’s bid to become the nation’s top diplomat was in the hands of a few senators, but received a boost Monday when two Democrats, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana, announced their support.

Pressure is mounting on senators from all sides. White House allies are unloading ad campaigns against Democrats from Trump-won states, but progressive groups are pounding senators’ offices in opposition. As soon as Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, announced her support for Pompeo, one group called on her to switch.

Ahead of the Foreign Relations Committee’s vote, chairman Bob Corker said of the full Senate: “It does appear Mike Pompeo has the votes to be secretary of state.”

Supporters point to Pompeo’s resume as a West Point and Harvard Law School graduate who has the president’s confidence, particularly on North Korea. Opponents are focusing on his hawkish foreign policy views and negative comments about gay marriage and Muslims.

Paul’s earlier objections to Pompeo, along with overwhelming opposition from Democrats, had set the secretary of state nominee on track to be the first since 1925, when the committee started keeping records, not to receive a favourable recommendation.

But Trump and Paul talked repeatedly, including a chat just moments before the vote.

“I have changed my mind,” Paul said, explaining he received reassurances that Pompeo agrees with the president that the Iraq war was a “mistake” and that it is time for US troops to leave Afghanistan. Paul’s office said he “got a win” – the promise that Pompeo sides with Trump on those issues – out of the situation, but declined to provide details.

“I want Trump to be Trump,” Paul said.

Asked about Paul’s change of heart, Trump said, “He’s a good man.”

Senators are anxious to have Pompeo in place before international meetings scheduled for later this week and ahead of North Korea talks.

Republicans blamed partisan politics for opposition, saying Pompeo is just as qualified as past secretaries of state nominees Hillary Clinton or John Kerry, both of whom received overwhelming support.

“A majority of Democrats continue their pointless obstruction to score cheap political points with their base as a wilful attempt to undermine American diplomacy,” said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders.