No nominee for secretary of state has ever been rejected by a Senate committee, at least not since 1925, when the chamber started maintaining public records on committee actions. With that in mind, lawmakers are likely to make some history today with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Donald Trump’s controversial choice to become the nation’s chief diplomat.
All 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as one of the panel’s 11 Republicans, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, have announced their opposition to Pompeo’s nomination. If all stick to that position at Monday’s 5 p.m. ET vote, his nomination will not have enough support to be reported favorably to the full Senate.
Hours before the vote, President Donald Trump slammed Democrats for that position. “Hard to believe Obstructionists May vote against Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State …” he tweeted.
It’s actually very easy to believe. Pompeo was a far-right congressman for three terms, where he was known for peddling conspiracy theories and receiving a whole lot of money from the Koch brothers. Trump tapped him for the CIA, where he was far too partisan to be a good fit, and where he had an unfortunate habit of politicizing intelligence.
So what happens after Pompeo is rejected by a bipartisan majority on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?
First, it’s probably worth hedging a bit before assuming that outcome. White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short said this morning he still hopes to persuade Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to change his mind and support Pompeo’s nomination (Short said there’s a “good chance” Paul will flip). The senator’s office told NBC News this morning that there were “no changes at this time” to Paul’s plans, but he’s reversed course before, and “at this time” is a phrase that sticks out like a sore thumb.
But just for the sake of conversation, let’s say Rand Paul follows through on his commitment and Pompeo comes up short in this afternoon’s committee vote. Under normal circumstances, that would effectively end the fight and the White House would begin looking for a new nominee.
These are not, however, normal circumstances. The Senate Republican leadership has already said it intends to ignore the Foreign Relations Committee’s recommendation and will bring Pompeo’s nomination to the floor. Senate Democratic leaders have some procedural tactics in mind to delay that process, but few observers expect those efforts to succeed.
And while the rejection at the committee level will be an embarrassment of historic significance, Pompeo won’t have to lick his wounds for very long. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) announced last week that she’ll vote for his confirmation, and another conservative, red-state Democrat, Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), announced today that he’ll do the same.
Barring a miracle, those votes should ensure Pompeo’s confirmation. The arithmetic works like this: there are 51 Republicans in the Senate majority, though Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) health makes him unavailable. Rand Paul, meanwhile, appears to be a “no” vote. That theoretically lowers Pompeo’s vote total to 49.
But with two conservative Dems – and counting – backing Pompeo’s nomination, he’s up to 51 votes. There’s been some chatter about Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) possibly balking, but I’m skeptical he’ll do so, and even if he does, that won’t be enough to derail Pompeo’s bid.
I suppose it’s possible some of the less conservative members of the Republican conference – Maine’s Susa Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, for example – could throw everyone a curveball before the final floor vote, but at this point, the odds are heavily in Pompeo’s favor.