CIA Director Mike Pompeo will be the next Secretary of State and help direct US foreign policy under President Donald Trump, following his confirmation Thursday afternoon.
The Senate voted to confirm Pompeo 57–42, following a rocky confirmation process for Trump’s controversial pick. Most Democrats opposed Pompeo’s nomination, citing his hawkish views and support for torture as a means of intelligence gathering, as well his refusal in a confirmation hearing to answer senators’ questions about the Russia investigation. (Pompeo confirmed during that hearing, however, that he has been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller in that probe.)
Democratic Sen. Cory Booker also pressed Pompeo in that hearing about a 2015 speech in which the nominee called gay sex a “perversion.” While Pompeo said that he still opposes same-sex marriage, he refused to say whether he stood by those comments.
Six Democrats from states that Trump won in 2016, however, ultimately voted in favor of Pompeo’s nomination Thursday. They include: Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Doug Jones of Alabama, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted for Pompeo.
Pompeo, a former member of congress and Army captain, has served as director of the CIA since January 2017. He will replace former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who was fired in March. Trump said at the time that he and Tillerson had several disagreements on policy, specifically naming the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump has long said is problematic. Tillerson reportedly learned of his firing — and that Pompeo was the pick to replace him — through a tweet Trump sent that morning.
Pompeo’s nomination almost didn’t make it through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Although it was expected that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would bring his nomination up for a full Senate vote either way, Pompeo nearly became the first Secretary of State nominee to receive an unfavorable vote in the committee since 1925, when those votes were first made public.
But Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who had heavily criticized Pompeo’s views on foreign policy, changed his mind just before the vote, allowing the committee to approve the nomination 11–9. Paul said his decision came after several conversations with Trump the day of the vote, and that Pompeo “assured me that he’s learned the lesson” of the Iraq War, which Paul vehemently opposes. Additionally, Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson was not at the committee hearing, and in order to move the nomination forward Democratic Sen. Chris Coons (who opposed the nomination and voted against Pompeo on the Senate floor) voted present in committee.
Pompeo already has some experience in diplomatic relations under the Trump administration. He secretly traveled to North Korea over Easter weekend to meet Kim Jong Un and try to set up a meeting between the nation’s leader and Trump to discuss North Korea’s nuclear program. Details of the trip first leaked on April 17 — a week before the committee vote on Pompeo’s nomination — and were confirmed by Trump the next day. In a tweet that day, Trump praised Pompeo’s outreach, saying that the “meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed.”
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, said in a statement Thursday that while Pompeo "has been effective" as head of the CIA, he could not support him as Secretary of State.
"I expect America’s top diplomat to be a forceful advocate for American values around the world — values like freedom, diversity, equality, and tolerance — and I was disappointed that Director Pompeo did not take the opportunity offered during the confirmation process to repudiate some of the extreme views he expressed during his time in Congress," Warner said.