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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Pompeo close to losing Senate committee vote for Secretary of State role

The CIA director would be first nominee for the position since 1925 not to win committee approval

If Mike Pompeo loses the committee vote next week, his nomination will move to a full floor vote in the Senate. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
If Mike Pompeo loses the committee vote next week, his nomination will move to a full floor vote in the Senate. Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA

Even as Donald Trump praised him on Twitter for a secret diplomatic mission to North Korea this month, Mike Pompeo was facing an uphill battle to pass a committee vote next week and become Secretary of State.

On Wednesday, the United States president touted the CIA director’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over Easter weekend, saying the “meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed.”

But that unusual diplomatic overture by Mr Pompeo, who was nominated to succeed Rex Tillerson at the State Department, did not do much to improve his chances in the Senate foreign relations committee.

More Democrats on the committee came out on Wednesday to reject his nomination, and cited his hawkish views on foreign policy and previous controversial comments he made about Muslim-Americans and the LGBT community.

All Democrats on the committee except Senator Chris Coons have rejected the nomination. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin joined their colleagues Tim Kaine, Chris Murphy, Tom Udall, Cory Booker, Ed Markey, and Jeff Merkley in opposing Mr Pompeo’s nomination.

On the Republican side of the committee Senator Rand Paul is opposing, and Senator Jeff Flake has not made his position public yet.

Mathematically that puts Mr Pompeo at 9 votes out of 11 needed to pass the committee. If either Mr Flake or Mr Coons opposes the nomination, Mr Pompeo would be the first nominee for the job since 1925 to lose a committee vote. Mr Coons voted against Mr Pompeo’s nomination for the CIA last year.

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Read more:

CIA chief strikes up 'good relationship' with North Korean leader at secret talks

Pompeo promises tough action on Iran if appointed

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The White House, alarmed about his chances, held a conference call on Wednesday to tout his public service record, and repeat praise from Democrats for him for his commitment to strengthening the State Department.

“Former Democratic secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton each have shown praise for Mr Pompeo and noted his desire to improve the morale at the State Department,” Kellyanne Conway, adviser to Mr Trump, said.

The president himself has attempted to swing votes behind the nominee, with CNN reporting that he had personally called Mr Paul and urged him to hold a meeting with Mr Pompeo:

Mrs Clinton referenced a bureaucratic “glimmer of hope” in Mr Pompeo’s nomination to work with the state department career service officers, unlike his predecessor in the job, Mr Tillerson, who left many appointments vacant and hired outside firms.

Ken Gude, a scholar at the Center for American Progress, told The National that the “White House is clearly aware that Mr Pompeo has been haemorrhaging support since his disastrous confirmation hearing.”

That hearing lasted five hours and a half and witnessed many contentious moments over Mr Pompeo’s positions on Iran, the Russia investigation and gay rights.

Mr Gude argued that the risk of losing the committee vote is “why the White House disclosed Mr Pompeo's role in the secret talks with North Korea to give him a boost, a move that only underscored Mr Pompeo's lack of candour with the Committee.” The nominee did not inform the committee about his secret trip.

Mr Gude said the administration "are panicking, and they should. Mr Pompeo's nomination is on life support.”

If Mr Pompeo loses the committee vote next week, his nomination will move to a full floor vote in the Senate. While Republicans hold a slim majority, the absence of Senator John McCain for medical reasons and opposition from Senator Paul will require support from Democrats to get him confirmed.