Donald Trump jolted the political world this week, announcing the ouster of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, and replacing him with Gina Haspel, the intelligence agency’s current deputy director.
But the process isn’t one in which the president just snaps his fingers. Both Pompeo and Haspel will require Senate confirmation, and while the odds are in their favor in the Republican-led chamber, it’s not necessarily going to be easy.
President Donald Trump’s picks to run the Central intelligence Agency and the State Department likely will need votes from Democrats to get confirmed by the closely divided Senate, after a Republican lawmaker said he would oppose their nominations.
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) announced Wednesday he would oppose the nomination of Gina Haspel to lead the CIA, citing her involvement with the harsh interrogation program used in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He also said he would oppose the nomination of Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state, citing his perceived stance on foreign wars.
To be sure, the broader picture hasn’t yet come into focus. Maybe Rand Paul intends to follow through on his decision (like he did when he briefly shut down the government last month), or maybe he’ll cave when the pressure’s on (like he did during the health care fight).
For that matter, we don’t know whether Pompeo and Haspel will receive support from some conservative Democrats, or whether other Senate Republicans may have related concerns. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), for example, has also raised concerns in writing.
I mention all of this, not because I take Rand Paul’s rhetoric at face value, but because in a 51-49 Senate, interesting things can happen. Given Haspel’s record on Bush-era torture, for example, it wouldn’t shock me if Paul and McCain really did balk at her nomination, putting it in jeopardy.
It also wouldn’t come as too big of a surprise if senators, well aware of the circumstances, started making certain demands in exchange for their votes on these controversial nominees. Horse-trading may very well make the difference between success and failure.
Postscript: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), true to form, said yesterday that the Republican senator from Kentucky is “defending and sympathizing with terrorists.” For some, the debate over war crimes and use of torture hasn’t progressed much over the last decade or so.