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Ignoring concerns, Republicans confirm new National Intel director

Last year, John Ratcliffe was widely seen as the punch-line to an unfortunate joke. Today, the GOP confirmed him as the director of National Intelligence.
Image: House Judiciary Committee Meets For Markup On Articles Of Impeachment
Judiciary Committee member John Ratcliffe, R-Tx., puts his hands to his face as the hearing considering articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump entered the 13th hour at the Longworth House Office Building on Dec. 12, 2019.Jonathan Newton / Pool via Getty Images

The director of National Intelligence is a rather important job. As Bloomberg News recently noted, the person who holds the position is responsible for overseeing the nation's 17 intelligence bodies, "including the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency, on everything from terrorist threats to cybersecurity attacks and election interference by foreigners."

With this in mind, when Donald Trump chose Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) to serve as DNI last summer, it was practically insulting. The Texas Republican, who was apparently unvetted by the White House, was immediately recognized as one of Congress' most far-right members, who's dabbled in silly conspiracy theories, and who's been a disengaged lawmaker with no meaningful connections with the intelligence agencies the president wanted him to oversee.

The Texas Republican was, in effect, a punch-line to an unfortunate joke. Almost immediately after the president introduced Ratcliffe as his choice for DNI, the far-right congressman was caught repeatedly lying about his professional background. Many noted that he didn't even meet the statutory guidelines for the position.

Senate Republicans made little effort to hide the fact that they didn't want Trump to nominate the guy. When Ratcliffe's nomination was pulled just a few days after it was announced, GOP senators seemed relieved that the debacle had come to an abrupt end.

And yet, as we recently discussed, the president decided to try again with Ratcliffe. This time, GOP senators went along.

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Rep. John Ratcliffe as director of national intelligence, installing a new head of the nation's intelligence agencies at a time when President Donald Trump has ousted multiple officials.... The Texas Republican will replace Richard Grenell, the current acting director who has overseen many of the personnel changes.

Since the DNI position was created 15 years ago, every official who's held the office was confirmed with broad, bipartisan support. Today's Senate vote, however, was 49 to 44.

The whole thing is a bit bizarre. Ratcliffe is a fringe congressman who seemed to get the president's attention through a series of Fox News appearances, and whose career should've been derailed when evidence emerged that he lied repeatedly about his professional background.

And yet, the Texan -- who appears to be literally unqualified -- will now oversee 17 U.S. intelligence agencies.

So how did Ratcliffe go from unconfirmable joke to the director of National Intelligence? The Atlantic's David Graham had a good piece on this last week that noted, among other things, that many senators realized that the current, acting DNI -- notorious online troll Ric Grenell -- was even worse than Ratcliffe.

"It's a travesty that Ratcliffe would be nominated and a travesty that he'd be confirmed," Graham wrote before explaining "the pernicious genius of Trump's plan: Senators would either have to hold their noses and confirm Ratcliffe, or hold their noses and let Grenell stick around."

Today, they chose the former over the latter.