WASHINGTON (AP) — Mike Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state received a boost Thursday with support from Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota as Republicans warned lawmakers not to reject President Donald Trump’s choice for top diplomat ahead of North Korea talks.
Just a handful of senators could determine Pompeo’s confirmation. Republicans have a narrow 51-49 majority, but Pompeo faces opposition from Democrats and at least one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Paul met with Pompeo on Thursday, at Trump’s request, but had no change in his position, the senator’s spokesman said.
“We need the Senate to approve Mike ASAP,” Trump tweeted Thursday. “He will be a great Secretary of State!”
As Pompeo, the current CIA director, walked the Senate halls this week to shore up support, political pressure was mounting on senators on both sides of the aisle.
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White House allies are pushing the administration’s view that Pompeo’s recent high-stakes meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un solidifies the diplomatic credentials of the West Point and Harvard Law graduate. They warned Democrats not to disrupt Trump’s efforts at a denuclearization deal.
“Obviously, he has the confidence of the president,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “It’s hard to imagine a better choice.”
At the same time, progressives are lighting up phone lines ahead of a crucial vote Monday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Pompeo faces almost unified opposition from Democrats. He may not be able to secure a favorable recommendation from the panel.
Failure to win the committee’s backing would be unusual — aides said it hasn’t happened since John Bolton was tapped as President George W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations — but it would not halt the process. Pompeo’s nomination could still be taken up by the full Senate, with a vote expected later in the week.
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, the last committee Democrat to disclose how he’ll vote, said calls are coming in overwhelmingly opposed to Pompeo. “I’m leaning against,” Coons said Wednesday.
Heitkamp, Sen. Joe Manchin or West Virginia and Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana are among several Democratic senators up for re-election in Trump-won states that the administration and its allies have spotlighted. All had voted for him as CIA director last year.
“I haven’t made up my mind,” Manchin said this week.
As the nomination moves to the Senate floor, the GOP’s slim majority, which slips with the absence of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is battling cancer, puts Pompeo’s confirmation in the hands of a few key senators.
One Republican, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, initially withheld his support this week for another Trump nominee, the new NASA administrator, as he pressed Pompeo about travel restrictions to Cuba, according to GOP leadership. The senator is an advocate for more open U.S.-Cuba relations.
Heitkamp does not serve on the Foreign Relations Committee, but her vote helps tip the Senate tally toward Pompeo.
Pompeo demonstrated during the nomination process and their meetings “that he is committed to empowering the diplomats at the State Department so they can do their jobs in advancing American interests,” she said in a statement.
“If he’s confirmed, I’ll hold Mr. Pompeo accountable to make sure he advances our country’s leadership in the world and supports our embassies – including by filling critical jobs that have been vacant, like for the U.S. Ambassador to South Korea.”
The nominee to replace Pompeo at the CIA is Gina Haspel, now the deputy director. Her Senate hearing is scheduled for May 9, and she, too, faces resistance.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
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