The White House is plowing ahead with President Trump’s plan to make his CIA director his new secretary of state.
On Thursday morning, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said it would vote on Mike Pompeo’s nomination on Monday. The Senate Intelligence Committee then moved ahead with a hearing on Trump’s preferred replacement for Pompeo, deputy CIA director Gina Haspel.
‘Mike Pompeo is outstanding. First in his class at West Point. A top student at Harvard Law School. A success at whatever he has done,’ President Trump later tweeted. ‘We need the Senate to approve Mike ASAP. He will be a great Secretary of State!’
Pompeo’s confirmation was far from guaranteed heading into Thursday. GOP hold-out Sen. Rand Paul had not budged, despite a personal appeal from Trump. Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who is retiring this year, was also undecided.
A vulnerable Democratic senator who had been under pressure from the White House to reach across the aisle buckled after the vote was announced, however, suggesting Trump’s plan was working.
The White House is plowing ahead with President Trump’s plan to make his CIA director his new secretary of state
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said in a Thursday afternoon statement that she would vote for Pompeo when his nomination comes before the full Senate.
‘Pompeo demonstrated during this nomination process and during our meeting in March that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests,’ she said.
The Foreign Relations Committee is poised to give Pompeo an unfavorable recommendation, making him the first would-be Cabinet-level official not to have the support of the of the Senate panel with jurisdiction in nearly 75 years.
Monday’s vote is expected to fall for and against along party lines, with the exception of Kentucky’s Paul, who has said he will side with committee Democrats.
‘I hope that we’re able to send him out of committee to the floor,’ Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on the Senate floor on Thursday.
‘And I hope that the members on the other side of the aisle that have not yet said how they are going to vote will think about the circumstances that we’re in today and feel like that they can support a highly qualified Secretary of State because they know that having someone like him giving advice to the president, leading diplomacy, making sure that the State Department, with the great professionals we have there, is given the ability to do what it does best by leveraging their efforts around the world.’
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton brushed off the importance of the committee vote during a call set up by the White House on Wednesday.
‘The Democrats should recognize the error of their ways, change their votes, and vote him out unanimously,’ he said. ‘Barring that, it doesn’t really matter to me what an unrepresentative committee does, because the Senate is the institution vested with the constitutional power to advise and consent on nominees.
‘And the Senate will confirm Mike Pompeo next week,’ he asserted.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the upper chamber, has not said when he will call a vote on Pompeo in the larger body. The White House has been pushing to have Pompeo in position before the summit Trump is planning to have with North Korea’s dictator, though.
‘Nothing could better underscore the importance of getting America’s top diplomat in place for such a time as this,’ White House Press Secretary said of the situation on Wednesday. ‘Dems have an opportunity to put politics aside, acknowledge our national security is too important, and confirm Mike Pompeo. Statesmanship.’
Corker said Thursday on CNN that he believes Senate Democrats could try to obstruct Pompeo all the way through the process in order to rob President Trump of a victory. He urged them not to in extended remarks on the topic on the Senate floor.
‘They feel like any support for a qualified secretary of state, which Mike Pompeo is in my opinion, is really showing proxy support for Trump, and they don’t want to be in that position,’ Corker said.
President Trump gave secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo his full-throated support on Wednesday as a clandestine trip he took to North Korea came under scrutiny. He’s seen boarding Air Force One for a return flight to Palm Beach here on Thursday
President Trump gave Pompeo his full-throated support on Wednesday as a clandestine trip the spy chief took to North Korea came under scrutiny.
Trump said that Pompeo, the current director of the CIA, is ‘extraordinary’ and a ‘great gentleman.’
‘I think he’s gonna come through,’ the president said of Pompeo’s all-important confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate.
Pomepo’s nomination appeared to hinge on the support of Paul or one of several Democratic senators who cast votes in the former Kansas congressman’s favor in his last confirmation battle.
A spokesman for Paul would only say Wednesday when contacted by DailyMail.com that ‘Senator Rand Paul fully supports this administration’s diplomatic efforts in all corners of the world.’
Trump said Wednesday during a working lunch at Mar-a-Lago with the U.S, and Japanese delegations that he expected Paul would come around.
‘Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I’m concerned. He’s never let me down. And I don’t think he’ll let us down again,’ Trump said. ‘If you remember, he voted for healthcare, and he did us a big favor. It was somebody else who voted against us that hurt us.’
That ‘somebody else’ was Republican Sen. John McCain, who has been absent from the Senate since the end of last year. He’s recovering from brain cancer and is unlikely to make it back to Washington in time to vote for Pompeo.
His expected absence puts the White House in the precarious position of needing the vice president to play tiebreaker, even if Trump is right about relying on Paul. If he isn’t, the president will need one Democratic lawmaker to switch sides.
The White House put pressure on Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly to swing the vote in its call on Wednesday. All three are up for reelection this year in states that Trump won.
Manchin has said he is undecided. Heitkamp and Donnelly have not made their views known.
Another possible ‘yea’ for Pompeo was Alabama Democrat Doug Jones. He was not a member of the Senate when it confirmed Pompeo to spy chief next year and has expressed a willingness in the past to work with President Trump.
The president confirmed in a tweet that the CIA director Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang
Complicating the vote was President Trump’s revelation Wednesday that Pompeo met dictator Kim Jong-un in North Korea earlier this month.
Trump tweeted that the ‘meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed’ between Kim and America’s chief spy.
At his afternoon luncheon Trump said that Pompeo ‘had a great meeting with Kim Jong un, and got along with him really well.
‘He’s that kind of a guy,’ Trump added.
The president made reference to the widespread speculation that Pompeo would not win Senate support for his nomination to secretary of state, telling reporters, he’s heard other predictions, ‘But I have a feeling its going to work out really well.’
Pompeo’s approval in the Senate faced obstacles even before his trip to Pyongyang leaked.
A handful of Democrats who green lit the former Kansas congressman and military veteran to become CIA director had already said they will not back him in his quest to oversee the State Department.
On Wednesday, Pompeo’s nomination was on life support as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, New Jersey’s Bob Menendez, and Sen. Ben Cardin publicly confirmed their intent to vote against him.
The White House held a call in the face of the mounting Democratic dissent on which Republican Cotton insisted he is ‘not concerned.’
‘Mike Pompeo will be confirmed as the next secretary of state,’ he insisted.
Half an hour after Trump’s comments, a report said Mike Pompeo (left), the CIA director and Secretary of State nominee, had traveled to North Korea to meet with Kim Jon-un (right) over the Easter weekend
The White House has been pushing to have Pompeo in position before the summit Trump is planning to have with North Korea’s dictator
The rush to defend Pompeo indicated that the White House was worried about about the CIA director’s weakened status and the possibility that he might not make it through the Senate Confirmation confirmation fight.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said that Pompeo is well-liked and brings people together, and he ought to have the support of a majority of Democrats.
‘Director Pompeo at the CIA has become a very trusted advisor to the president,’ she said. ‘You become a trusted advisor to the President by delivering information that is helpful to him making decisions, but at the same time, respectful that he will make that ultimate decision. And we expect the Secretary of State, he will continue in that capacity.’
She would not shed any light on the Pompeo’s trip to North Korea in the call nor would Cotton, a senator who sits on the Intelligence Committee.
Cotton declined to say when or how senators were notified of the trip.
Playing the role of attack dog against Democrats, Cotton said it was ‘blind partisanship and the fact that they are still not over the results of the 2016 election’ that was truly keeping them from supporting Pompeo.
‘If anything, they should want to have a professional like Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, representing the United States’ interests abroad,’ he said.
The White House call followed two key Democratic senators’ announcements that the would vote against Pompeo.
‘I do not believe Mr. Pompeo will be an independent voice in advising the president,’ said Sen. Ben Cardin.
The Democratic senator cited nuclear talks with North Korea in his statement, saying that ‘when we need a surge in diplomacy to resolve crises in Iran and North Korea, the United States needs a Secretary of State who can effectively build meaningful and respectful partnerships and bridges in pursuit of America’s national security interests.
‘I do not believe Mr. Pompeo is that candidate,’ he asserted.
Menendez said he’s a no vote, too.
‘After committing to transparency in his opening statement, he was not forthcoming when I questioned him about his involvement in the Russia investigation and I can tell you even his private conversations with me he didn’t tell me about his visit to North Korea,’ Menendez said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event in Washington.
Trump said during a working lunch at Mar-a-Lago with the U.S, and Japanese delegations Wednesday that he expected Pomepo’s nomination to pass the U.S. Senate
The revelation that Pompeo made a secret trip to North Korea that lawmakers found out about in press reports may not sit well with Republicans riding the fence, either.
The surprise trip preceded Pompeo’s testimony to senators confirmation hearing for his secretary of state.
Sen. James Lankford, a Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he was not aware of the trip in a Wednesday morning interview, but he was unphased by the revelation.
‘Obviously, we all knew that there were upper level conversations pending with North Korea. You don’t have a meeting with the president and not have upper level officials meet first with officials there in North Korea to be able to set it up,’ he said Wednesday morning. ‘So no big surprise there, and he seems like a reasonable person to be tapped to do it. But I was not aware in advance.’
McConnell said Thursday in a floor speech that ‘the quiet nature of these discussions reflect their seriousness’ and that he was heartened by Pompeo’s trip.
‘The North Korean undoubtedly view him as credible, determined, and insightful,’ he said.
So too does he have the ‘confidence of not only the national clandestine service, but also the Commander-in-Chief,’ the Senate majority leader said.
Corker compared the trip to the Obama administration’s secret talks with Cuba and Iran. He also pointed out that former CIA Director James Clapper made a covert trip to North Korea in 2014 to negotiate the release of two American captives.
‘I like the fact that Pompeo met with him,’ Corker told journalists attending a Christian Science Monitor breakfast on Wednesday. ‘I look at that as the first step. I think that’s intelligent,’ he stated.
In a floor speech on Thursday, Corker noted that he’s not in any way an apologist for this administration. He swatted down Democratic complaints that bellicose language Pompeo used on occasion as a congressman should not prohibit him from holding the job that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry once had.
The retiring senator who has belittled Trump publicly said he was also not aware of the underground meeting, but ‘it doesn’t bother’ him.
‘When you’re sending your CIA chief in to meet with another leader when you know that intelligence has been the route through which we’ve dealt with the North Koreans — it just doesn’t bother me,’ he said.
Trump set off alarm bells on Tuesday when he said the United States had engaged in ‘extremely high level’ talks with North Korea, later hinting that they go all the way up to Kim.
His comments at Mar-a-Lago on Tuesday night came just before reports emerged that Pompeo had secretly visited Pyongyang to meet with Kim.
Trump had strongly suggested earlier in the day that someone from the U.S. had spoken to Kim in preparation for a planned summit between the two leaders, and it might even be him.
He rolled back the apparent confirmation a few minutes later in another encounter with press, creating confusion about what he’d originally meant.
‘Well let’s leave it a little bit short of that,’ Trump said of direct talks with Kim the second time around. ‘But we have talks at the highest level, and it’s going very well, but we’ll see what happens.’
Trump’s spokesman immediately sent out a statement clarifying that the talks were not with Kim himself.
‘The President said the administration has had talks at the highest levels and added that they were not with him directly,’ she said.
A half hour later, the Washington Post reported that the CIA director went on a clandestine mission to North Korea to meet with Kim over Easter weekend.
Sanders in a follow up statement did not deny that the trip had taken place.
She simply said: ‘The administration does not comment on the CIA Director’s travel.’
Trump overruled his press secretary this morning and confirmed the trip outright.
‘Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed,’ he tweeted. ‘Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!’
Pompeo has been paving the way for an expected meeting between Trump and Kim.
The CIA director has a close relationship with the president, unlike former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who Trump fired last month in a tweet a few days after agreeing to an invitation from Kim to meet.
At a confirmation hearing last week that would have taken place after his trip to Pyongyang, Pompeo told senators on the Foreign Relations Committee that he was ‘optimistic that the United States government can set the conditions for that appropriately so that the president and the North Korean leader’ can have a conversation that ‘will set us down the course of achieving a diplomatic outcome that…America and the world so desperately need.’
The president confirmed Tuesday that a face-to-face meeting between himself and Kim was still on track to take place in the next few weeks.
‘I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong-un. And hopefully that will be a success. And maybe it will be, and maybe it won’t be. We don’t know,’ Trump said. ‘But I can say this: They do respect us. We are respectful of them. And we’re going to see what happens.’
Trump said scheduled talks with Kim are on track for late May or early June as he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago for a two-day summit
Unless negotiations go offer the rails, Trump said the talk wold take place in late May or early June in one of five undisclosed locations he said are under consideration.
‘We have had direct talks at very high levels, extremely high levels, with North Korea. And I really believe there’s a lot of good will,’ the U.S. president said. ‘As I always say, we’ll see what happens. Because ultimately, it’s the end result that counts.’
Locations under discussion were thought to include Beijing, Geneva and Panmunjom, a city inside the Demilitarized Zone.
Sweden has also offered to assist with a meeting, and Mongolia’s former president recommended his country’s summit city, Ulaanbaatar.
Trump said Washington had been ruled out, affirming experts’ expectations that the meeting would not take place on either of the leaders’ home turf.
Trump commented on the scheduled talks with Kim on Tuesday as he hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago for a two-day summit.
Trump said Japan and the U.S. are ‘locked and we are very unified’ when it comes to North Korea.
Abe commended Trump on Tuesday for having the ‘courage’ to meet with Kim.
Still, he said he wanted to ‘underscore the importance of achieving the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, as well as the abandonment of missile programs of North Korea’ in their talks.