Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State appears set for a smooth approval by the Senate after a last-minute change of heart from a key detractor.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul announced he would drop his objection to Mike Pompeo‘s nomination in a series of tweets early Monday evening, sparing him from what would have been the first time in nearly a century of documented history that the majority of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted against a Secretary of State nominee.
The rebuke would have been a staggering break from precedent: Senate committees have almost always allowed nominees for cabinet posts to make it to the floor. But with all of the committee’s Democrats plus Paul, it would have been a majority against the former Tea Party congressman and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In practical terms, the committee vote almost certainly wouldn’t have mattered.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was expected to bring Pompeo’s nomination to the Senate floor regardless of the committee’s decision. (The only recorded example of a nominee being confirmed by the Senate after failing to earn a recommendation from the relevant committee was Henry Wallace, who was nominated for Secretary of Commerce in 1945.)
Pompeo’s nomination needs just a simple majority in the Senate to pass, and it looks like he has it, thanks to three Democrats who have broken from their party’s ranks. These three lawmakers — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana — have two things in common: they’re all Democrats from largely Republican states, and they all face reelection in these states in the midterm elections later this year.
“Mike Pompeo will be confirmed as the next Secretary of State,” Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, said in a telephone briefing to reporters last Friday. “I cannot imagine that senators … who are facing reelection in states that our president won by landslide elections are going to oppose an obviously qualified nominee for whom they voted last year.”
On Monday, Manchin proved him right. “After meeting with Mike Pompeo, discussing his foreign policy perspectives, & considering his distinguished time as CIA Director & his exemplary career in public service, I will vote to confirm Mike Pompeo to be our next Secretary of State,” the West Virginia Democrat tweeted.
Meanwhile, other Democrats are standing in staunch opposition to Pompeo’s nomination, though it will likely amount to little more than noise. “A majority of Democrats continue their pointless obstruction to score cheap political points with their base,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders groused at a press briefing on Monday. “I think that if you even look at some of the questioning that’s been brought up by the Senate, no one doubts Pompeo’s qualifications and his ability to do the job.”
Indeed, the White House has done its part to bolster Pompeo’s résumé while his fate hangs in the balance on Capitol Hill. Last week, it was reported that Pompeo had traveled to Pyongyang to lay the groundwork for a possible summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un — a major story, and one that many suspect was deliberately leaked to cast Pompeo as a handy diplomat ahead of his confirmation.
With reporting by Tessa Berenson in Washington